Things started to click for defenseman Bobby Phillips around Jan. 15.
His plus/minus rating had sagged to an abominable minus-15. He had only two goals and one assist in 25 games. And he wasnt making much of an impact on the ice.
Then came the metamorphosis into a reliable blue-liner.
He began limiting his defensive mistakes, going minus-1 in his final 35 games. He contributed more in the offensive end with two goals and four assists. And, most importantly, he became the teams go-to shot-blocker.
Early in the season, we had him playing with a lot of defensive partners and that hurt him more than it helped him because he was having to adjust to a new style all the time, general manager David Franke said. Hes got a high plus/minus this season, but it hasnt ballooned recently. Hes kept it under control, and hes playing a lot better than he did early in the (season) and thats why hes still around.
Phillips, who is in his second season out of Mercyhurst College, conceded that changing partners often muddled his mind and play.
Ask any guy and theyll tell you, every night, its hard having a new partner. Its hard to adjust, Phillips said. You dont know where theyre going to go. But once you get used to a guy, its a lot easier to play.
Things got easier after the NHLs Columbus Blue Jackets assigned offensive defenseman Michael Ratchuk to Fort Wayne; he has one goal and 13 points in 22 games. Ratchuk has partnered primarily with his roommate, Phillips.
I definitely got more comfortable and was able to play my game instead of worrying about my (defense) partner so much, Phillips said. Im so defensive minded that I was always wondering (early in the season) what my partners were going to do and trying to compensate. I was trying to adjust to them all the time.
Phillips had two goals, 16 points and a plus-20 rating in 66 games last season, when the Komets won their third straight IHL championship. Now theyre in the CHL and, on Saturday, as No. 6 seeds in the Turner Conference will open a first-round best-of-five playoff series against the third-seeded Bloomington PrairieThunder.
In what is expected to be a low-scoring series, Phillips newly rediscovered shot-blocking role will be pivotal.
I dont know why I got away from (doing) that last year, he said. Thats how I had been my whole life. I didnt block a lot last year and, honestly, I dont even know why. Its weird. I was talking to (center Danny) Lapointe because he was asking how I go down like that, and I was trying to show him in practice, but I cant do it if I start thinking about it. Its just instinct.
The Komets (31-27-8) were 3-7-0 against the PrairieThunder (37-22-7).
Phillips, whose plus/minus rating was better than only one teammate, center Mathieu Curadeau (minus-24), knows he must bring the sort of game he did for the last 10 weeks.
Ive had my ups and downs, just like everybody else this season, said Phillips, 25, whose father, Bob, played for Fort Wayne in 1981-82. Its been the whole team, though, not just individuals. Weve all had ups and downs (collectively). But were still going to the playoffs.