Komets suddenly looking lucky
In the wake of the lowest day of a regular season that had many lows, Komets general manager David Franke said: “Making the playoffs, compared to the season we’ve had, would be a great accomplishment.”
He was referring to mind-boggling 11 trades, 48 players and a plethora of squandered games : you’d be hard pressed to find a member of the Franke family who hasn’t expressed frustration with their team publicly : but David’s comments came in the wake of the embarrassing 11-0 road loss March 2 to the rival Toledo Walleye.
Not many around Memorial Coliseum are really going to call the season already a success just because the Komets did, indeed, qualify for the playoffs. But it’s worth noting the Komets have made the playoffs in 20 of the last 22 years, and won five postseason titles in five leagues along the way, a run of success almost no professional team can match.
The irony of that awful 11-0 loss is that the Komets now will face the Walleye in yet another best-of-7 playoff series : the fourth in five years : and it’s the best matchup Fort Wayne could have gotten.
Consider the alternatives: Regular-season champion Cincinnati, which they were 5-6-0 against, or Kalamazoo, against which they were surprisingly 6-6-1. Even the division teams that missed the postseason, Indy and Wheeling, gave Fort Wayne fits.
Against the Walleye, Fort Wayne was 5-4-2 but won the two meetings since the 11-0 loss: a 4-1 game at the Coliseum and a 2-1 overtime road victory cemented by an Anthony Petruzzelli goal. There are many players new to the teams since last year, when Fort Wayne ousted Toledo in six games to advance to the Western Conference finals, but that 11-goal butt-kicking is something that has resonated in the Fort Wayne locker room.
The running joke about the Komets verbalized by coach Gary Graham on March 30 has been, “The only thing consistent with this team is how inconsistent it is,” but the Komets tend to play up to superior competition as much as they play down to lesser opponents. So, a series with the Walleye may bring out their best.
Toledo’s record of 40-23-9 is ahead of Fort Wayne’s, 36-26-10. Its superior home record : 23-9-4 to 18-13-5 : will come in handy with home-ice advantage in this series. Its offense is better, 3.29 goals per game to 3.24. Its defense is better, 3.07 goals against per game to 3.44. Its power play is better, 18.7 to 16%. Its penalty kill, too, 83.1 to 80.6%.
And the Walleye has seven players contracted to higher-level teams in Jordan Topping, Dylan Sadowy, Bryan Moore, Marcus Crawford, Trevor Hamilton, Kaden Fulcher and Pat Nagle, while the Komets have three in Zach Fucale, Phelix Martineau and Matthew Weis, who won’t be here anytime soon.
This can all be construed as evidence that Toledo is a superior team or ammunition for the Komets, who are better as underdogs. The feeling around the Coliseum has long been that if they can just make the postseason, they could get on a run because they have so many weapons such as J.C. Campagna, Brady Shaw, Shawn Szydlowski and Jake Kamrass.
Are they trying to catch lightning in a bottle? Absolutely, but the Komets are also coming off three straight victories and have a 13-8-1 record over their last 22. Meanwhile, Toledo is 4-4-1 over its last nine and 10-10-2 over its last 22.
The Komets are the underdogs, but no one should be surprised if they give Toledo all it can handle or even find a way to advance. Seven of the 11 games between the teams this season have been decided by one goal. Hatred is always a motivating factor, too.
Justin A. Cohn, senior writer for The Journal Gazette, has covered Fort Wayne sports since 1997. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or phone at 260-461-8429. You can also follow him on Twitter@sportsicohn.