Jesse Bennefield began the season on the Komets’ top line, but now he’s not even on the playoff roster.
The Komets opted, instead, to keep rookie Tom Mele for the best-of-seven Turner Conference semifinals against the Rapid City Rush that begin Friday in South Dakota.
The top-seeded Komets will play the first two games of the series without defenseman Brent Henley, who was suspended for three games by the CHL for actions in Saturday’s 2-1 overtime victory at Dayton. He served the first game of the suspension Sunday.
After getting cross-checked in the face by Brett Lutes, who was fined by the CHL, Henley punched Damien Surma and pummeled Lutes, kneeing him on the ice and allegedly spitting on him, an act Henley has denied.
Henley had three goals, 14 points and 201 penalty minutes in 60 regular-season games and led the league with a plus-29 rating. He shared the team’s award for best defenseman with Frankie DeAngelis, who was on the all-league team, and Henley was selected as the CHL’s top defensive defenseman in a poll of players, coaches and staff conducted by the league.
The main thing is they made their ruling. There’s no reason to be all upset (with the suspension), Komets general manager David Franke said.
But I’m not happy with the fact that I’ve had three players get hit in the head and suffer concussions – Chris Auger, Brett Smith and T.J. Miller – and ... in total there was a one-game suspension served by somebody from those hits. That’s what bothers me. We have players who get concussed and there are no penalties, or maybe a minor penalty, no suspensions, and then our players are out of the lineup for a couple of weeks.
Evansville’s Karl Linden got the one-game suspension for his hit on Auger. Bloomington’s Ryan Palmer got a pass for his hit on Smith, and Lutes did, too, for his Saturday hit on Miller.
The Komets must play one man short of a full lineup because of the suspension. They believe defenseman Bryant Molle (shoulder) will be back for Games 1 and 2, and Miller could play in Game 3 on April 4.
Bennefield was acquired in an offseason trade with Wichita for defenseman Craig Cescon. Bennefield had seven goals and 26 points in 44 games after 35 goals and 75 points in 66 last season.
At the end of the day, we just didn’t have a spot for Bennefield, Franke said. It’s unfortunate. We had counted on a lot of offense from Jesse and it just didn’t happen. We just decided to part right now. He’s a good guy. It just didn’t fit with him this year.