K’s win 3rd in row to finish season
Jake Kamrass had the Komets’ first hat trick in over a year to lead the Komets to a 5-2 victory over the Wheeling Nailers in the regular-season finale, a game Sunday that couldn’t affect the standings.
And then 36-year-old captain Jamie Schaafsma accomplished an even greater feat, winning or sharing five team awards, including MVP, which was voted on by the players, and Stonewall Defensive Forward, voted on by reporters and team staff.
“I don’t want to retire. I would love to play the game until my legs fall off. But I was starting to think this was them trying to push me into retirement. ‘Maybe if we give him all the awards, he’ll finally leave,’” said Schaafsma, who had 14 goals, 31 points and plus-5 rating in 67 games in his fifth season with the team.
“It was exciting for me, humbling for me, unbelievable (to get those awards). The most important one was getting voted by (MVP) my teammates. That meant a lot to me and caught me by surprise. I love this group, and I hope we can come together and do great things there in the playoffs.”
The Komets (36-26-10), who finished third in the Central Division, begin their best-of-7 first-round playoff series with the rival Toledo Walleye 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Huntington Center in Toledo.
The Nailers (31-31-10), who moved into the six-team division this season and finished last, have missed the playoffs three straight years.
There were many options for team MVP, after an up-and-down regular season of trades, injuries, call-ups and the usage 48 players. Schaafsma had to lead on and off the ice, skate at every position but goaltender and serve as an assistant coach.
“I’m glad it was No. 22. Jamie has done an unbelievable job this year with the amount of turnover we’ve had and the amount of new guys,” coach Gary Graham said. “A big reason why him and Cody (Sol) came back, and why we wanted them back, was because ... we wanted to try and have some semblance of the kind of culture we’d had in the locker room.
“It’s been a very taxing year at some points during the season on the staff and on Jamie, since he’s part of the staff, and I think he’s done an unbelievable job of keeping guys grounded and humble. He’s done a good job of keeping them away from too much negativity. In a market like Fort Wayne, it can get pretty negative in a hurry when things aren’t going the right way, and he’s done a great job of keeping their spirits up and making sure we stay focused.”
Other MVP candidates included Kamrass, who was named the team’s Rookie of the Year. He scored 17 of his 22 goals in 57 games after coming from South Carolina for Garret Ross; J.C. Campagna, who finished second in ECHL goal-scoring with 35, one behind Tulsa’s Adam Pleskach; plus Brady Shaw, Justin Hodgman and Shawn Szydlowski.
Kamrass’ hat trick was the first for the Komets since Garrett Thompson’s March 24, 2018, against Wichita. Fort Wayne also got goals Sunday from Shaw and Anthony Nellis in front of 9,568 fans.
“We wanted to finish off the season on a high note,” Kamrass said after the Komets’ third straight victory. “We just wanted to get another win for the hometown crowd.”
Wheeling’s goals came from Zac Lynch and Cedric Lacroix. Matt O’Connor made 35 saves.
Alex Dubeau stopped 31 shots for Fort Wayne.