The Komets don’t have Brad MacMillan, Jon Mirasty, Jeff Worlton or anyone like those enforcers.
Nonetheless, this might be the toughest Fort Wayne team since the 1990s. It’s taken only six ECHL games, of which the Komets have won three, for the fans to see that.
Saturday night’s 1-0 victory over the Gwinnett Gladiators is the latest example. Ryan Donald cross-checked Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock, who is certainly not a player to back down from a fight. But before Schrock could retaliate, Tyler Butler had sped in, dropped his gloves and begun brawling with Donald.
You can’t say enough about Butler at the end of the game, Komets coach Al Sims said. One of the oldest guys on our defensive corps and he was stepping up and protecting his teammate.
It came less than 24 hours after a 10-player brawl at Memorial Coliseum, set off by the Gladiators crashing the Fort Wayne net in the waning seconds of a 4-2 Gwinnett victory.
We’ve got a team that sticks up for each other and doesn’t let anyone take liberties, Sims said. They had three guys in there trying to push and shove at (goalie) Marco Cousineau and we’re not going to allow that.
Fort Wayne is third in the ECHL with an average of 28.33 penalty minutes per game. That includes 12 fights.
While fans had complained in recent years that the Komets didn’t do enough to retaliate if a player is victimized by a cheap shot, that hasn’t been the case this season.
For instance, when Chris Auger’s knee was blown out on a hit from Evansville’s Aaron Gens on Oct. 20, Colten Hayes immediately came in to punish Gens.
You’ve got to be there for one of your teammates, said forward Brandon Marino, who was third in the ECHL in goals (five) and second in points (11) heading into Sunday’s games.
If someone takes advantage of one of your guys, you’ve got to be there for him, Marino said. That’s the sign of a good team all around. We can’t back down from anyone, but that can’t be our main goal either. We’ve got to come out and win a hockey game.
Fortunately for the Komets, when their toughness has resulted in short-handed situations, they’ve been adept a killing penalties. They ranked third with a penalty-kill efficiency of 94.1 percent.
And, as goalie Charlie Effinger pointed out, the toughness has been shown not just in fisticuffs, but also in hard checks, blocked shots and battling through injuries.
There’s honestly a lot of character in this room. These are character guys, Effinger said.
It’s so easy to see on the ice, when you see the same old guys blocking big shots or clearing out rebounds on the penalty kill. You guys in Fort Wayne are well aware of having character guys; this team has won a lot of championships and you don’t do that by mistake. The organization looks for that and it’s fun to be part of that type of culture.
Notes: Several Komets players are taking part in Movember, growing mustaches next month to raise money for prostate and testicular cancer awareness. Check the Ice Chips blog at www.journalgazette.net to keep up with their efforts.