TOLEDO, Ohio – Five goals, four fights and one failed penalty shot punctuated a back-and-forth affair as the Toledo Walleye came from behind to edge the Fort Wayne Komets 3-2 on Saturday before a boisterous sold-out crowd of 8,363 at the Huntington Center.
The largest opening-night attendance in franchise history quickly came to life as the Central Division rivals initiated two fights in the opening 3:50 of the contest. One night removed from Toledo’s (4-1-1-0) convincing 7-3 triumph at Fort Wayne (1-5-0-0), Brenden Kotyk and Justin Kea brought the crowd to its feet when they dropped the gloves at the 2:04 mark. Fewer than two minutes later, Hunter Smith delivered a clean check at his own blue line, but exchanged punches with Chase Stewart when the latter took exception and jumped into the fray.
The Walleye broke the scoreless tie as T.J. Hensick extended his goal streak to three consecutive games 7:19 into the first frame. The 112-game NHL veteran gained the zone and ripped a snapshot from the right point that whizzed past Lukas Hafner and into the top left corner, sending the Fort Wayne netminder’s water bottle airborne.
Toledo’s lead remained intact until Fort Wayne capitalized on its first power play opportunity of the contest. Joseph Widmar’s pass from the right half-boards reached J.C. Campagna in the slot for a sharp wrist shot into the top right corner at 18:41.
Fort Wayne showed a burst of energy to begin the second stanza, capturing a 2-1 lead 18 ticks into the period. Anthony Petruzzelli dropped a pass at the right circle to Justin Hodgman, who worked his way down low before centering a pass to Marc-Olivier Roy for a shot along the ice into an empty cage.
Shortly after Kevin Tansey became the second Walleye to bout with Kea, the hosts headed to the power play when Hodgman was called for slashing 14:53 into the second. Forty seconds later, Hensick sent a pass from the left point through the legs of A.J. Jenks to Shane Berschbach at the right post for a tap-in to take a 2-2 deadlock into the second intermission.
Smith put the Walleye in front for good with 12:39 remaining in regulation. Ben Storm moved on his backhand behind the Fort Wayne goal before feeding Smith at the left circle for a quick wrist shot inside the right post to create a 3-2 advantage.
The visitors carried the play in the closing stages and were granted a penalty shot when Kotyk was caught flipping a water bottle towards the action in front of the Toledo net. Pat Nagle then made the largest of his 22 saves when he used his right toe to turn away Hodgman’s slapshot at the 16:41 mark and condemn the Komets to their fifth consecutive defeat.
Toledo finished 1-for-4 on the power play while Fort Wayne scored once on three opportunities. Hafner turned away 22-of-25 shots in a losing cause.
What’s Next:The Walleye travel to West Michigan on Tuesday for a matinee matchup against the Kalamazoo Wings. Puck drop from Wings Event Center is scheduled for 10:30 a.m.
Three Stars:1. Toledo – Hunter Smith (game-winning goal)2. Toledo – T.J. Hensick (goal, assist)3. Toledo – Shane Berschbach (power play goal)