FORT WAYNE – If the Komets really need to win a faceoff, then chances are coach Gary Graham will send center Scott Fleming to take it.
Fleming tends to get on hot streaks more than any of the Komets’ other faceoff specialists, which include Shawn Szydlowski, Kenton Miller and Mickey Lang. But as any Komet taking faceoffs will tell, streaks can run hot or cold.
Sometimes, some games, you can’t really do much no matter what you try, Fleming said. You just can’t figure it out. You’ve just got to tie them up and do the best you can. It’s good when you’re feeling it, because it feels like you can win every draw.
Faceoffs take place 50 to 60 times per game and last only a matter of seconds, and while the focus is usually only on the two players vying for control of the puck, it’s about more than that.
Plays are scripted for everyone, and those plays change depending on which faceoff dot is being used. Every player must react to which direction the puck goes and to where the opposing team goes.
Sometimes the puck goes nowhere and the players taking the draw just tie each other up. And even if a center loses the draw, the faceoff can still be won by his team if his teammates react accordingly.
It’s definitely a five-man unit. Even (the goalie) is out there letting us know which one of them is getting ready to take a one-timer (shot). I can win it over to a teammate, but if our defensemen or wingers aren’t ready, then the other team can get a jump on them and it’s a wash. So we all have to be going, Fleming said.
Graham, whose team plays host to defending-champion Reading tonight and Saturday, likened a faceoff to the snapping of the ball in football. Except that it’s more complicated in hockey; in football, at least you know before the ball is snapped whether your team will have possession.
It’s definitely a five-man philosophy on faceoffs, and the guys are at what we call the line of scrimmage,’ and they have to help out, said Graham, noting that the toughest faceoffs can be in the offensive zone because it’s essentially three on five.
With a football analogy, you are outnumbered at the line of attack. It’s important when at the dot there, when it’s unclear there, that the wingers get in and converge on those loose pucks and help the centerman out.
The Komets have set plays for all sorts of game situations, and those plays have subsets for what happens if the Komets win or lose the draw.
The lost faceoffs are as much about reading the opponent as trying to guess when the puck will come out of the official’s hands.
I try to bear down and tie them up or see what he’s going to do and try to do my best to react and win them. It’s been going good for me this year, Fleming said.
Usually, I see if (my opponent) is a left- or right-handed guy and see if he’s trying to win it and what he’s going to do and then try to react off that. Then, I need to figure out what I’m going to do.
Graham takes note of which players on other teams do well on faceoffs – the ECHL doesn’t track its faceoff statistics, but the NHL’s best player, Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, wins 60 percent – and that knowledge may come in handy when he’s looking to add a player to the roster.
But some players get hot, even if they aren’t known for being that good.
It’s something you work on in practice, and it’s a repetition thing. Some nights there will be guys who are on and some who are off, Graham said.
It might not be the guy who it was the night before. Somebody might have a hot hand and, as a coach, sometimes you’re going off of a gut feeling on who can get you that big draw.