When the Komets are winning games, coach Al Sims leaves his forward line combinations alone. When they are losing, he mixes them up often, even in the midst of periods.
Seemingly everyone – players, fans, reporters – has their own ideas of whom Sims should put together.
Sims’ philosophy when making lines is that he doesn’t want too many guys who have the same skill set together.
If he has all goal-scorers together, who will get them the puck? If he has three playmakers, who will shoot? If two guys are very smart, and the third lacks hockey smarts, will the line jell?
It usually starts at practice, Sims said. We’ll try them through practices and see how everybody looks with each other. If they then play and have a good game, we’ll try to keep them together.
It can be an unenviable task because line combinations are scrutinized by everyone and feelings can be hurt.
A lot of times, especially if we’re struggling, we don’t have the right as players (to suggest combinations), forward Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock said. That’s what the coach gets paid to do, and he’s the best at it.
This isn’t to say players don’t lobby for particularly combinations, as do the fans.
If a coach does everything the fans say, the media says or the players say, then, sometimes (the players) don’t work hard, center Colin Chaulk said. So (the coach) pushes back against the players and forces them to do what he says. The other side of the coin is, if a player says, Put me with Schrock and (Keith) Rodger,’ then there’s ownership on that line. If you go to management and say, We’re going to get the job done,’ then it’s on you now.
Chaulk said it’s unusual for all three players on a line to click, like he did with Bobby Stewart and David-Alexandre Beauregard in the championship season of 2002-03 and with Jonathan Goodwin and Sean Venedam in 2004-05.
You have to have a good combination of a good shooter, a thumper and a passer. That’s a perfect world, Chaulk said. Most cases, generally speaking, two guys generally work well together and the (third is serviceable).
And it seldom becomes cohesive immediately.
You’ve got to work hard for each other, Chaulk said. You can’t throw your hands up in the air when somebody makes a mistake. Next time it could be you. You’ve got to play together. That’s what (former Komets coach) Greg Puhalski used to preach, Play together, play together.’
More than anything, when Sims puts together a line, he’s looking for magic to happen. But if a combination isn’t exhilarating, it had better be effective as a checking line, a scoring line or a line that always seems to come through in the clutch.
I want to see hockey smarts more than anything else, Sims said. If you’ve got one guy with that, he’s going to make the right play at the right time. You need at least some hockey smarts on a line.
It’s been tough to keep track of Sims’ lines this season, but recent combinations include: Chaulk, Derek Patrosso and Tab Lardner; Danny Lapointe, Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock and Artem Podshendyalov; Mathieu Curadeau, Sean O’Connor and P.C. Drouin.
Whatever choices Sims makes, there will be second-guessing.
I’ve never been a coach, Chaulk said, but I just try to think about what he’s doing. And when you’re thinking about what the coach should be doing, it’s not good for your game. They’re just trying to find a combination. They’re looking for something.