Friday, April 14, 2017 1:00 am
JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette
KOMETS vs. MALLARDS
Players to watch: Jamie Schaafsma, the captain, has been to a playoff finals seven of the last eight years and won four championships. … Rookie Mike Cazzola, selected MVP by his teammates, has six goals and 11 points in last seven games. … Shawn Szydlowski isn't just a regular-season dynamo; he has 18 goals and 36 points in 35 playoff games for the Komets.
Goaltending: Pat Nagle (15-3-4, 2.23 goals-against average, .916 save percentage, two shutouts) is expected to be the Game 1 starter and has the ability to carry the Komets through the playoffs. … Garrett Bartus (21-7-1, 2.68 GAA, .905 SP, four shutouts), who was a candidate for team and league MVP for what he did while Nagle was injured, could take over at any time.
Must step it up: Mike Embach, who had 18 goals and 51 points in the regular season, must take the pressure off less experienced forwards such as Cazzola and Kyle Thomas. … Garrett Thompson, who had 20 goals and 46 points, needs to be a consistent, physical presence every night.
Under the radar: Late-season addition Ryan Lowney has given the Komets needed offense from the back end, tallying one goal and six points in 14 games. … In the playoffs, when blocking shots is crucial, look for Will Weber to step up.
On the coach: Gary Graham won a championship in the Southern Professional Hockey League in 2013 and was an assistant with the Komets for three championships. As the Komets' head coach, he has a record of 22-17 in the playoffs, has won four of seven series and has shown improvement every year.
K's absolutely must: Cut down on their 17.9 penalty minutes per game.
Important intangible: The Komets have won nine times when trailing by two or more goals. That also points to their inconsistency, but they don't get rattled in the face of adversity.
Matchup they must win: Cody Sol has had a breakout season defensively – he was plus-39 – and he must help shut down Michael Parks, who had 29 goals.
Players to watch: Sam Warning had 24 goals and 54 points in the regular season, including three goals and a team-best 10 points against the Komets in 12 games. … Dylan Labbe, a fourth-round draft pick of the NHL's Minnesota Wild in 2013, is an AHL-caliber defenseman who has three goals and six points in 17 ECHL games. … Chris Francis, the Mallards' captain, had 27 goals, including seven game-winners, and 60 points.
Goaltending: C.J. Motte (20-11-2, 2.68 GAA, .917 SP) didn't have a shutout. He played at Ferris State alongside Thompson, Lowney and Jason Binkley. … Adam Vay (20-17-2, 3.03 GAA, .900 SP, three shutouts) wasn't good against the Komets with a 1-5-0 record and a .858 SP.
Must step it up: Justin Kovacs had 20 goals and 60 points but was minus-4, including a minus-8 over his last six games. … Brady Brassart had only one goal and four points in 10 games against the Komets.
Under the radar: Pavel Jenys, a seventh-round draft pick of the Wild in 2014, had 12 goals and 16 points in 46 games. … Alex Petan had 14 goals, including four game-winners, in 45 games.
On the coach: Phil Axtell has a 21-12-4 record since replacing Terry Ruskowski as coach during the regular season. While he certainly had a terrific mentor in Ruskowski, who played in the NHL and won two Central Hockey League championships as a coach, Axtell must prove he can handle the nuances of playoffs.
Mallards absolutely must: Improve the power play, second worst in the ECHL at 12.4 percent and 4 of 40 against the Komets.
Important intangible: The Mallards have a spotless 23-0-0 record when leading after two periods.
Matchup they must win: Nolan LaPorte, who had 44 points and a team-best plus-26 rating, must help shut down red-hot Gabriel Desjardins, who has five goals and nine points in the last 11 games.