ECHL: Scrambled Heartlanders Take One Win Against Komets In Last Home Series of 2023

Coralville, Iowa- Regardless of how festive this time of year is, the bitterness of rivalries will always persist. With three games directly before the holiday season, both the Heartlanders and Komets were much more concerned with getting their points than they were with making sure they stayed on the nice list during their games at Xtream Arena.

Due to a string of call-ups and mid-game injuries over the weekend, Iowa found themselves making emergency signings to help prepare for this series. With Louis Boudon, Maxim Cajkovic, Hunter Jones, and Gavin Hain all getting calls to the AHL’s Iowa Wild at some point during the three-game series, Derek Damon went out and found Justin Michaelian (#22), a forward who played 13 games for Iowa last year, and Max Johnson (#13), another forward who has been playing alongside Michaelian in semi-pro with the SPHL’s Fayetteville Marksmen (NC) this season, but had two years of experience with the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers and Worcester Railers. The Marksmen duo also helped ease the blow of Will Calverley’s injury he suffered mid-game on Thursday. Gavin Hain rejoined the team on Friday as well.

The weekend began with a touching moment that means more than hockey. Komets owner Michael Franke passed on December 10 and was honored by the Heartlanders and Komets together. Franke was a fan of the Komets even before purchasing the team in 1990. His legacy will be one of success, helping to shape minor league hockey the way it is today by sustaining the former United Hockey League, being influential in the recreation of the International Hockey League, and eventually guiding the merger of the Central Hockey League into the ECHL. Franke’s tenure also saw the Komets lift five cups, including the 2021 Kelly Cup.

The Komets stayed true to their history and guidance under Franke’s tenure in charge of the team, playing aggressive, chippy, and winning hockey. After Iowa’s Brett Budgell beat Fort Wayne goalie Brett Brochu for his 4th of the season, Fort Wayne found the back of Hunter Jones’ net twice to take an all-too-familiar Komets comeback lead. Fortunately for Iowa, the momentum was in their hands after Casey Dornbach was left unguarded in front of the goal for his 3rd of the season, which you can watch here:

With the 2-2 tie after the second period and the game being controlled by Iowa, an early third-period goal by Nick Campoli (4th of the campaign) gave Iowa a lead that they held until Fort Wayne pulled their goalie for the extra attacker. Following a breakaway the Landers got with just a few seconds left, the empty net was no match for Maxim Cajkovic, who joined the double-digits club before his Friday call-up. Hunter Jones recorded 34 saves before joining him on the drive to Des Moines.

With the drastic change in personnel going into Friday’s game and no time to prepare for the changes, Damon’s squad found themselves disorganized. Peyton Jones found himself tending the net after being told he was getting a day of rest on Friday after Drew DeRidder allowed four goals in the first 21 minutes of play. During that time, Budgell also found his 5th of the season and second of the series. Late in the second, Justin Michaelian was able to net his first career professional goal to cut the lead to two. You can relive #22’s special moment here:

Unfortunately for the Landers, Fort Wayne found the back of Peyton Jones’ net twice more for a final score of 6-2 in favor of the Komets.

Saturday’s Festivus special was nothing particularly special for Iowa. An extraordinarily skilled goal from Yuki Miura for his 4th of the season and a top save of the weekend from Peyton Jones, both of which you can experience again below:

These incredible moments were not something the Heartlanders could capitalize on, as Iowa allowed the final four goals of the game, with a final score of 4-1.

Going into the short Holiday break, Iowa will cherish their first-ever holiday break in a playoff position as they sit in 4th place with 27 points from 28 games. The Heartlanders will watch the New Year’s Ball drop from Rapid City, South Dakota, as they will play the Rush for three games from Friday the 29th through Sunday the 31st. Each game will start at 8:00 pm Central Time, and Derek Damon will find reinforcements for the team and hope to go out of 2023 with a bang.

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