I don’t blame coach Gary Graham for being frustrated. His team is prone to nights like this, in which they gave up five straight goals in a 5-3 loss to the Indy Fuel – when one point would have guaranteed Fort Wayne a playoff spot.
Any coach would hate that. And having to answer the same questions about the same problems over and over again, it can be mind-numbing.
But when aim is taken at the media – in this case, mostly yours truly – it is a sign that a season is really off the rails.
A little background here is that, for most of the games, I’m the only reporter asking Graham questions after games. Seasons like this can be tough on coaches, players and reporters, because the same questions are asked, just maybe in different ways, they don’t want to talk about those topics and sometimes you just have to ask anything to get them talking about anything at all.
We all knew Graham was going to come in to the interview room in a mood, so the goal was to ask in generalities and see where it goes.
Tonight, I asked Graham a softball question about the Komets controlling their own destiny and he went wild. You can see video of it above, but the gist of Graham’s ire was that I’m not asking difficult enough questions of the players. This isn't the first time he's gone there.
First of all, I have been. Second of all, what I do or do not ask the players is inconsequential to how they perform on the ice, or at least it should be. Thirdly, as you can hear me try to explain in the interview, it’s not reasonable to ask the lone beat writer to press players repeatedly about their own mistakes. You may be able to get away with that in the NFL, where there is a pool of reporters (and I was an NFL writer for more than a decade), but if I ask, say, Brady Shaw a question that is highly critical and I do it game after game after game, he’s not going to talk to me again and that would do a disservice to my readers.
In other words, you have to pick your shots. I’ll let the readers be the judge if, throughout my 21 seasons, including this one, I’ve been analytical enough with my reporting and asked the tough questions.
Some nuggets from Graham on the issue follow. And, by the way, while he was talking, the players were holding an extended meeting in the locker room:
“Go ask them. I don’t know what questions you guys are asking those guys in the locker room. I’ve been answering the same questions all year. Are you asking those guys about turning the puck over and taking dumb penalties? What are they saying? I’m not seeing it anywhere. I’d like to see it. I’d love to see it.”
“I’ve had to healthy scratch veteran players all year. A coach should never have to healthy scratch veteran players in this league – ever. But that’s what I’ve had to do. I’ve had to bag skate. I’ve had to do everything. And it’s the same stuff over and over again.”
I did ask Shawn Szydlowski about the penalties (he and Anthony Petruzzelli were in the box for high-sticking when Indy scored twice on a 5-on-3 power play) and the turnovers.
Szydlowski said: “It all comes down to guys looking at themselves in the mirror and figuring out the right way to play. Sometimes if you take a cheap shot or something, you’ve got to look away. Even I have been a fault for that. Last week, I took a couple of stupid penalties and we ended up getting scored on and we lost a couple hockey games. I wasn’t thrilled about that. I don’t think mine was stupid tonight, but it was a mistake and I can’t do that on the penalty kill – give them a 5-on-3 and they scored two goals – so I’m at fault for this loss just as well. But it comes down to this weekend and if we carry any momentum into the playoffs.”
He also said: “It’s got to come from all the guys in the locker room. At the end of the day, Gary is the coach and he puts together the game plan. But sometimes it comes down to who wants to win a hockey game. Obviously, they wanted to win more and it is what it is. At this time of the year, guys have to dig down deep and decide if they want to have a long summer or if they want to play playoff hockey. I believe most of the guys in this locker room want to play playoff hockey and we have to act like it.”
Goaltender Zach Fucale, asked about the Komets making the same mistakes, said: “From now on, these are going to be tight games. We expect tight games and they’re not going to be any easier because the competition is just going to ramp up and we’re going to be facing some solid teams that are really looking for those points. In our locker room, what we have to do is make sure we come ready for a really strong battle everyday, and make those little adjustments whether it’s in the game or in between games to make sure we’re that much better for the next one and more well-prepared.”