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Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Flint’s Jake Pence, left, won two titles with the Komets, but he’s now an important part of the Generals’ success in the postseason.

Former Komet helps fuel surprising Flint

Jake Pence knows what it’s like to be the favorite and win a championship. He did it with the Komets – twice.

Heading into the Turner Cup Finals tonight, he’s embracing the role of underdog, as is his Flint team, though one might argue the Generals are anything but unheralded.

The Generals were one of the hottest teams in the IHL down the stretch, going 19-12-1, and they knocked off the top-seeded Muskegon Lumberjacks in a seven-game semifinal series.

“I think we’ll always be perceived as underdogs, and that’s big for us. We have no pressure,” Pence said. “Everybody thinks, ‘They’re Flint, and they’re just going to lose.’

“But we like proving people wrong and like the underdog status.”

Why do so many people doubt the Generals? They have been saddled by off-ice problems, which included the players buying their own equipment at times this season, and players receiving eviction notices because of unpaid bills. They were in last place as recently as January, needing Bloomington to lose its last six games to clear a path to the playoffs.

And the Generals, who are 6-4-2 against Fort Wayne, are unlikely to even be around next season, since a North American Hockey League junior team will be moving into Perani Arena.

“It just started clicking recently,” said Pence, 26. “We found an identity with the team, and we started playing for each other and had no pressure. We just kept playing for the guys in the room, kept it simple and light. We never got down on ourselves.”

Pence, a defenseman, is one of the veteran leaders in the Generals’ locker room, along with former NHL players Bryan Smolinski and Pascal Rheaume, who won a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2003.

“Guys will come and just ask what the playoffs are like in this league. That’s where I have a little more knowledge,” said Pence, who had six goals and 26 points in the regular season. “But look around the room. We have a guy like Pascal, who has won a Stanley Cup, and we have Bryan Smolinski. We have a wealth of knowledge. I don’t think I’m a particular (sounding board) for anybody with too much information.”

Except for one area, and that’s how to solve the Komets.

“I think if we stick to a simple game plan, that’s going to work best against Fort Wayne,” Pence said. “Having played there, you have so many guys and so much skill, if we’re shutting them down somewhere, they’ll turn somewhere else and try something new. It’ll be a challenge, but one that we’re up for.”

Even if it means playing in front of large crowds at Memorial Coliseum. The Komets averaged 7,825 fans during the regular season, while the Generals averaged 1,868.

“Speaking for the rest of the guys on the team, we love playing in Fort Wayne because you have the atmosphere we don’t have in Flint,” Pence said. “You love to play in front of people. It gets you pumped up. Yeah, it’s a huge advantage for Fort Wayne, but we really like it, too.”