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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
The Komets lost goalie Kenny Reiter to a call-up late in the season. Reiter was 14-7-1 with a 2.72 goals-against average in his time in Fort Wayne.

‘Perfect storm’ drowned K’s

Injuries, lockout, call-ups factored in poor season

If it seemed as if the Komets got hit by a tidal wave, maybe it’s because they endured what general manager David Franke called “a perfect storm” – one that caused one of the most disappointing seasons in the franchise’s 61 seasons of hockey.

The Komets entered this season with four championships in five years – 2008, 2009 and 2010 in the IHL and 2012 in the CHL – but those were in smaller leagues without strong ties to the higher-level NHL and American Hockey League.

In the 23-team ECHL, the Komets came up with a mantra – “Double-A hockey is Double-A hockey” – but they wound up missing the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and finishing 33-35-4, below .500 for the first time since 1997.

Asked what created his perfect storm, Franke listed the following:

•In moving from the CHL, the Komets weren’t able to protect any players or take over the roster of a previous ECHL team. That enabled Reading to sign defenseman Bryant Molle. And they didn’t have an expansion draft; the roster was built from scratch.

•The complexities of an affiliation – with the Anaheim Ducks – were something the Komets hadn’t had to deal with since the 1990s. “It’s taken us awhile to figure out the involvement of the NHL again,” Franke said.

•The NHL lockout, which lasted longer than most expected, changed the complexion of the ECHL. “The talent in this league and the remaining talent that stays in this league, it’s made it far superior to what it would have been,” Franke said, “and I fully expect it will be back to normal next season.”

•The Komets lost top-line forward Chris Auger for the season in game No. 4. Captain Colin Chaulk was limited to 28 games because of injuries and illness, which could end his playing career.

•Still, in January, the Komets were vying for the top spot in the conference – until teams they aren’t affiliated with, Bridgeport and Lake Erie of the AHL, called up Kenny Reiter, arguably the ECHL’s best goalie, and all-star defenseman Daniel Maggio.

“That’s a lot to have to deal with in one season, but I think there were some bright spots with certain players and we were a very good road team,” Franke said. “But at home we were terrible, and we need to make sure we control our home ice.”

The home record of 16-20-0 – while the Komets averaged a league-best 7,583 fans per game – was the worst part, because it negated the strong road record and disappointed the fans.

“When you let yourself down and let the fans down all season, you want to end with a good feeling, and at least we accomplished that,” said alternate captain Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock, referring to the a 4-2 victory over Kalamazoo on Saturday.

“It shouldn’t be hard. You are still playing a game that you love, and just because you are out of the playoffs doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go out there and earn your paycheck.”

The Komets said they will focus on offense in the offseason, after scoring 2.85 goals per game, 16th most in the league.

They were led by team MVP Brandon Marino (20 goals, 74 points), Brett Smith (13 goals, 45 points) and Thomas Beauregard (24 goals, 34 points), who was brought in to replace Auger.

The defense ranked 17th, allowing 3.42 goals per game. The power play was last (13 percent) and the penalty kill 20th (80.1 percent).

“Uncharacteristically of this team, we were horrible on special teams. That’s from the system we used, to the players involved on the penalty kill, to something people don’t look at often – faceoffs – and we hardly ever got them this year,” said Franke, who will evaluate the future of coach Al Sims as well as the players.

The goaltending was a positive. Reiter was 14-7-1 with a 2.72 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage before his call-up. Charlie Effinger was 10-13-2 with a 3.55 GAA and a .890 save percentage. Jeff Deslauriers was 5-8-1 with a 3.35 GAA and a .900 save percentage. And Marco Cousineau was 3-7-0 with a 3.55 GAA and a .886 save percentage.

But an inexperienced defense hung them out to dry, and there wasn’t enough offensive support.

“It’s funny, when guys grow confidence in the goalies behind us, they start turning it over and kind of thinking, ‘Eh, the goalies will take care of it.’ That’s happened too many times to us,” forward Jean-Michel Rizk said.

“These guys can’t stop them all. At some point, the law of averages will catch up, and you need too make sure you’re not putting your goalies in those situations.”

If this season was a perfect storm, now begins the cleanup.

“There are no guarantees in anything, especially life,” Franke said. “But we recognize the problems we had.”