As the Komets prepare for the best-of-seven Turner Cup Finals, which begin Saturday at Memorial Coliseum, they are hoping to rekindle their biggest strength: defense.
After having the IHLs best defense during the regular season, allowing 2.41 goals per game, their goals-against average ballooned to 2.57 during their seven-game semifinals victory over the Port Huron Icehawks. It may not sound that striking a difference, but there was a 4-0 shutout in the final game.
In other words, Port Huron scored three or more goals in four games, and that is deemed unacceptable by the Komets, especially since theyre going to face a Flint Generals offense that has been potent in the playoffs.
Were hoping to get back to tight, stingy defense in the championship series, said coach Al Sims, who has guided the Komets to the last two Turner Cup titles. In our last game, we got back to doing what we do best – limiting the other teams chances and when they do get them, our goaltender comes up big. Thats certainly the way we want to play the first game of the championship series.
The Generals averaged 3.71 goals in their seven-game series against Muskegon, identical to the second-seeded Komets offensive output.
But the Generals have shown a knack for being able to penetrate the Komets defense. The Generals averaged 3 goals while winning six of 12 against Fort Wayne.
The Generals are led offensively by former NHL players Pascal Rheaume and Bryan Smolinski, who have combined for six goals and 22 points in the playoffs. Fort Waynes defensemen are relatively inexperienced – they include three rookies – and that could be a factor, though Sims doesnt think so.
They made some mistakes, but thats to be expected, Sims said. Port Huron was playing with a very veteran defense and they made plenty of mistakes, too, so I was happy with our play.
And he was particularly pleased with goaltender Nick Boucher, who stopped 96 of 101 shots in winning the last three games.
I think to three years ago, skating around in the morning skate before the seventh game (of the finals) and Nick coming to me and saying, Im going to get it done, coach, dont worry, Sims said. Ill always remember that. Its the type of confidence he carries in himself, in his teammates and in his ability. He doesnt seem to have lost any of that swagger.
Defenseman Danko Mironovic said the Komets would help their cause by staying out of the penalty box, after nine of Port Hurons 18 goals came on power plays.
We did a better job late in the series, but weve still got to improve on the penalties, Mironovic said. Earlier in the series, we were taking dumb penalties in front of the net, after the whistle, and you cant be taking those. If theres a scoring chance, thats the time to take a penalty, but anything after the whistle you cant have, especially in the finals, a series like this.
And good defense by Fort Wayne would take the pressure off its offense. Generals goalie Rob Nolan has stopped 199 of 212 shots and won 4 of 6 games in the playoffs.
Every goal we get is going to be a big one, so weve got to keep our goals against down, Mironovic said.