The Komets have once again cemented an unthinkable comeback. Their 4-0 victory over the Port Huron Icehawks on Monday night polished off a comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven semifinals, sending the Komets into the Turner Cup Finals for a third straight year.
This is the third time since 2005 that the Komets have completed such a comeback in the playoffs.
How do they do it? Simply put, through character, the refusal to go into the offseason quietly and a healthy smattering of pride.
In Fort Wayne, you’ve got to win, center Colin Chaulk said. If you don’t win, they’ll bring new people in. If you want to play here, you better (bleeping) win. I make that clear to everybody else, and a lot of other players make that clear, too. Produce or you’re out. That’s just what it is, really.
The Komets can blame officiating for some of their early woes – Port Huron scored on 9 of 38 power plays, Fort Wayne on 6 of 32 – but they also had the benefit of facing a rookie goaltender, Raffaelle D’Orso, in 10 of the last 11 periods because of Larry Sterling’s head injury.
I thought for a young kid out of juniors, (D’Orso) did himself proud and played well, said Komets coach Al Sims, whose team outscored the Icehawks 15-5 in the final three games.
The Komets will face either top-seeded Muskegon or fourth-seeded Flint in the finals. The Generals won 5-2 in Game 6 Tuesday. Game 7 is today in Muskegon.
Regardless of the opposition, and despite Fort Wayne’s seemingly unparalleled ability to recover from big deficits, the Komets want to take control of the finals early.
There really wasn’t any panic (against Port Huron), forward Matt Syroczynski said. It almost, to a fault, was like we waited until our backs were against the wall, and then we were like, OK, now we’ve got to go.’ My personal opinion is I think we waited a bit too long to get it going. Fortunately, it wasn’t too late, and now we move on.
Not only are the Komets chasing a third straight Cup, which would be an unprecedented feat in the franchise’s 58 years, but this could be the last run with this nucleus of players. Some are contemplating retirement. The possibility that the IHL folds and the Komets move to the American or Central Hockey League, or the ECHL, would mean different roster rules and a greater influx of youth – one more reason the second-seeded Komets didn’t want their season to end against the third-seeded Icehawks.
There’s a lot of character in the room and a lot of pride, guys who have been champs the last two years, Sims said. There are guys in that room that take this time of year very seriously and didn’t want to go out four games to one to a team that finished behind us in the standings.
One thing seems clear: even if the Komets do fall behind in the coming series, they’re going to be difficult to oust. Just ask the Icehawks, the 2005 Rockford IceHogs or anyone who was at the Coliseum on Monday night, when Fort Wayne scored three goals in the first 5 minutes, 11 seconds.
To talk about the character in our room, we’ve got great leadership, Sims said. They’re the guys who do it. It’s not me. Those guys go out on the ice and perform, and they carry my message throughout that room. With leadership like that, things like this (comeback) can happen.
Note: The North American Hockey League, a junior circuit, will have a team in Flint at Perani Arena next season. The Michigan Warriors will be coached by former NHL player Moe Mantha. However, IHL commissioner Dennis Hextall said in a statement his league still hopes to have a team in Flint next season. Junior level is a very different brand of hockey from what our league offers and we are confident that the fans of professional hockey will continue to support the Generals, Hextall said.