Rookie's hat trick gives him nine points for the week
By Blake Sebring, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, December 18, 2016 9:40 PM
Usually, the second period is when Memorial Coliseum fans take a little bit of a nap to prepare for the third period. That's also when their hockey team is normally snoozing this season.
Trailing 1-0 on Sunday night, the Fort Wayne Komets reversed their second-period trend by scoring four goals to beat a very good Orlando Solar Bears team 7-1. Though the Solar Bears are in the midst of a 10-game road trip, it was a quality win for the Komets as Orlando holds first place in the ECHL's South Division.
The Komets are 10-2 at home, winning five in a row heading into an important holiday stretch where they will play four in a row at Memorial Coliseum following Wednesday's contest at Quad City. The Komets are 15-7-3 overall and hold a one-point lead on Quad City for third in the Central Division, one point behind second-place Tulsa which has played three more games than Fort Wayne.
Komets center Mike Cazzola might be running away with the ECHL's Player of the Week Award after scoring nine points over his last three games, 10 over his last five and 12 over his last six to climb to third in the league's rookie scoring race. He had three goals and and two assists Sunday, and a lot of times he's been setting up Shawn Szydlowski who has six goals and 19 points over his last nine games to climb into third in the overall league scoring race.
Just before his recent hot streak, Cazzolla had cooled off a little with three assists over six games.
"If you take care of the defensive zone, then offense translates," Cazzola said. "I'm trying to be the type of player that Grammer can throw out in the last minute of a game or a period. Another thing I wanted to key in on was penalty kill. I wanted to get some more ice time and be more reliable. Hopefully, that has translated into more offense, and tonight was a good example of that."
Komets coach Gary Graham has noticed.
"He's competing every shift," Graham said. "He's consistent, man, is he consistent. Him and Szyd are really feeding off each other."
If Cazzola isn't the Player of the Week, then Jamie Schaafsma might be as he has eight points this week in three games, including four assists on Sunday. Brady Vail has six points in five games and goaltender Garrett Bartus is 4-0-1 in is last five decisions with a .941 save percentage.
Now imagine how well the Komets would be playing if they'd been able to hold the 4-0 lead they had Friday night in Wheeling. They'd be 7-1-1 and maintaining ground on Toledo which is 9-1 over its last 10 despite playing three games at Alaska and three in Utah recently. The Walleye, who lead he league and the division with 42 points, come to Fort Wayne on New Year's Eve.
Like Toledo, the Solar Bears are very fast and their game is very disciplined, but the Komets made them look a little average in the second period, out-shooting Orlando at one point 14-2 and 20-6 during the 20 minutes. There were plenty of penalties, but not even those could slow down the Komets.
"For us, it was about trying to impose our will on them right away, and stay on it, and I thought we did a good job of that," Graham said. "I thought we out-chanced them 9-5 in the first period, and I really liked our game in the first period so I really wasn't concerned. I thought if we kept doing what we were doing, eventually, we'd start chipping away."
Now the Komets face another big game Wednesday in Quad City. The Mallards rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win 5-4 in Kalamazoo on Sunday and stay one point behind Fort Wayne.
"Quad City is playing some excellent hockey right now," Graham said. "It's not an easy place to go in and play. It's a long day trip, a four-point game in the standings and we're looking forward to it."
The Komets may be without defensive stalwart Cody Sol who left in the third period with a knee strain after a clean hipcheck by Orlando's Trevor Ludwig.
For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at @blakesebring, at his blog tailingthekomets.com and on Facebook at Blake Sebring.