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  • Justin A. Cohn | The Journal Gazette Komets captain Jamie Schaafsma, left, is normally a forward but filled in last week as a defenseman and may have to move back again depending on Fort Wayne's blue-line injuries. 

Friday, April 14, 2017 1:00 am

Cagey vet Schaafsma plugs gap

Player-coach moved to defense when need arose

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

As the Komets' player/assistant coach, Jamie Schaafsma has preached the need to make simple plays in the defensive zone, chip the puck out and get it to the forwards, so they can make a play at the other end.

When the opportunity presented itself last week, Schaafsma figured he'd just take matters into his own hands.

The Komets were short-handed on defense with Will Weber, Kyle Follmer and Bobby Shea out with injuries. Schaafsma, normally a forward and also the Komets' captain, told head coach Gary Graham he was willing to move back for a couple of games and he did so, as the Komets beat Quad City 5-2 and 6-1.

“I knew for a couple of games, I could do the job,” Schaafsma said. “I told him, 'If you need me back there, I'm willing to do it.' ”

Schaafsma, whose Komets open their best-of-7 first-round playoff series tonight with the Quad City Mallards at Memorial Coliseum, may have had selfish interests. He knew the Komets were having trouble finding a defenseman to fill in and he didn't think tiring out the five healthy blue-liners would be a good idea. Plus, Schaafsma had played some defense before for Flint and Allen.

The Komets hope they won't need Schaafsma to be on the blue line tonight or in Saturday's Game 2, as Weber could be back from his wrist injury, and Follmer is expected to return for Game 3 on Wednesday in Moline, Illinois. Shea is likely out through the first round.

But it's good to know they have Schaafsma, 34, as an option – especially since he knows exactly what Graham wants.

“We have a good offensive group of forwards, but you have to get them the puck,” Graham said. “When you have a smart, older forward back there who keeps it simple and advances the puck and makes quick plays, it (helps).”

Schaafsma had 17 goals, 62 points and a plus-15 rating in 53 regular-season games. Not only is he known as a good defensive center, but he also has been solid on special teams with six goals and 24 points on power plays and two assists on short-handed goals.

“He's a smart player and can even jump up and help you out with the rush (when playing as a defenseman),” Graham said.

Fundamentally, being a defenseman is much different than being a forward.

“The footwork is a lot different,” Schaafsma said. “There's a lot more pivoting, backward skating, things like that. It's just different and when you haven't worked on it all year, it's definitely hard, but it was fun.”

Mentally, though, is where the real challenge is for a forward making the move back. Schaafsma certainly isn't the only one in the ECHL to have done so; Kalamazoo's Eric Katellus is one the Komets have faced at both positions.

“Defense is all about positioning and being in good position,” said Schaafsma, who is in his first season as an assistant coach.

“As a forward, you can just kind of work hard and work through things and get in good position because you're skating around. Defense is different because it's more of a mental game. There's not as much skating, I don't think, to it. But there's definitely a lot more thinking involved in positioning. It's not easy to just transition back there. I know I made some mistakes out there and there were times I got caught.”

jcohn@jg.net