FORT WAYNE – The Komets have had many terrific in-season pickups from free agency or the waiver wire.
Center Leo Thomas was a key component of the 2009 IHL championship team. Forward Justin Hodgman was playoff MVP that year. Tim Haun became was the IHLs Goaltender of the Year in 2010. And center Colin Chaulk helped turn a last-place team into a playoff team last year.
Add Mike Vaskivuo to the list.
Picked up off waivers from Rapid City on March 15, Vaskivuos had five goals and 15 points in 11 games. He has three goals and six points in five games in the best-of-seven Turner Conference semifinals against Rapid City.
Vaskivuo scored Fort Waynes only goal in Sundays 4-1 Game 5 loss at Memorial Coliseum. The loss trimmed the Komets series lead to 3-2 heading into tonights game in South Dakota.
The line of Vaskivuo, Chaulk and Chris Auger has totaled seven goals (two game-winners) and 16 points against the Rush.
Every game, were getting more and more familiar with each other, said Vaskivuo, who had 13 goals and 37 points in 54 games with Rapid City. We know were the line thats looked upon to get goals and get production. Were just trying to do that right now.
The 2010-champion Rush eliminated the Komets in the conference semifinals last year, when it was a best-of-five series. It was confident last weekend it would force the series back to the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
Theres no quit in either of these teams. We know that, Rush coach Joe Ferras said. Weve been around the block too much, both teams, and the compete level (is) there. Lets put it this way: If you were watching the games as a paid spectator, you guys are getting great hockey. We know that, and thats not going to stop.
The Komets will be without Brett Smith tonight. Smith didnt make the trip to Rapid City. He aggravated the neck injury suffered in Game 1 when hit from behind by Jeff Kyrzakos.
I dont know if hes day-to-day. I just dont know, Komets general manager David Franke said. I dont know if hell be available for the next game if we dont get the job done in Rapid City.
Smiths absence will put more pressure on Vaskivuo to score, and hes already been the focal point of the Rushs defense.
Weve got to do the same things that have made us successful, Vaskivuo said. Weve got to get the pucks deep and get shots on (goalie Tim) Boron. Weve got to get some traffic, play hard, and that should get the job done for us.
The Komets split the first two games in South Dakota, losing 6-3 and winning 3-1. The Komets were 21-11-1 on the road in the regular season, while Rapid City was 21-9-3 at home.
Weve got to play ugly road hockey, Chaulk said. Weve done it all year and been successful on the road. We got the split there and beat them three times in a row (during the regular season). Weve just got to deal with the intensity. Well get back there and just be ready to go.
Third-seeded Missouri, which hasnt played since eliminating Evansville on April 2, is awaiting the winner of this series.
If you asked (Komets coach Al Sims), if hes honest, he knew it was going to be a long series before it started and we know theres two very good hockey clubs, Ferras said.