I have been a fan of the Komets since I was a kid. I was around 8 years old when I went to my first game. As I recall, it ended with a brawl and both teams clearing the benches.
Needless to say, I was hooked.
Now 24, I have a family of my own and have been to almost every home game the last three seasons, two of which have been spent as a season-ticket holder.
Like most other Komet fans, I had huge expectations when the Komets entered the ECHL in 2012. I was excited to see more skilled hockey, a style closer to the NHL.
This season was interesting from the beginning with the hiring of Gary Graham as coach to the hype surrounding the supposed new style. The decision to go without an NHL affiliation brought concern, but I am a die-hard fan and will always believe the Komets have the chance to win a championship.
I believed we had recruited good players. And from the confidence of management and the coach, I thought last fall we would make a good run this season.
But with the poor start and the trade of our captain, Nick Tuzzolino, I became very worried with our chances of being successful, especially after walking out of Memorial Coliseum, seemingly every night, after an overtime or shootout loss.
Then came the now-infamous Mickey Lang and Mike Vaskivuo situation in December, when they left the team and demanded to be traded. Personally, I liked Lang. He played hard, had a heck of a shot, and threw his body around a little more than the other forwards. I will admit, I thought Graham had lost control of the locker room. There were so many negative comments from those within the organization, and I wasn’t convinced there was a lot of hope.
Even though I thought management wasn’t handling things very well, I was wrong. We brought in clutch players who fit in, helped the team grow and pushed us to a positive end of the regular season and into the second round of the playoffs.
We followed up all the drama with some of the best trades we could have made. I was blown away and still wonder how general manager David Franke pulled them off. I mean, Tuzzy for defenseman Jordon Southorn was the biggest steal that I have seen in a long time. Then, the Komets went on to bring in goaltender Ben Meisner for Phil Mangan. What Komets fan could imagine us going so deep without Benny?
Matt Carter and both Ouellets – Dean and Christian – were huge acquisitions, too.
And you can’t go without mentioning the trade for Mike Embach, who is an absolute beast on the forecheck, plays the body and really has the ability to put up points.
I really loved the roller-coaster ride this year. The end would not have been so sweet if the beginning had not been so rough.
Yes, we were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs. But keep in mind, if you had told any Komet fan during the first half of this season that they were going to bounce the defending-champion Reading Royals in five games and then go six games into the Eastern Conference semifinals against Cincinnati, that fan would have laughed.
This season was a success, in my opinion. Especially considering how our players, coach and management came together to make it work. Our guys showed a lot of heart just in making the playoffs, even more with what they did once they were in.
With the history and tradition that Komets hockey encompasses, I believe our former players would be proud of what this season’s team did.
In regard to next season, my expectations are just as high. Our core guys have proven they can win.
I am on the fence about need for an NHL affiliation. Do I think it would hurt? No. But I also think that we did well as an independent team. I will put my trust in management to make the right decision, but personally, I think they should lean toward getting an affiliation.
As for what areas need to be improved, the Komets need a more effective power play, to be bigger up front and to play consistent, full 60 minutes in games. There were far too many games in which we had to fall behind by two or three goals to finally get a fire burning in our guts. That was problematic but it’s also an issue that is fixable.
I have high expectations for next season. Based on how Graham has brought this team together, despite the adversity, I think he is going to be a great coach for this franchise.