Here’s the best way I can sum up why the Komets, despite what I believe is a high level of talent, are 11-10-1 after their 5-3 loss tonight to the Manchester Monarchs: They don’t come to the rink ready to play.
It sounds unbelievable to those of us who aren’t professional hockey players. Your job is to play hockey; how can you not be ready? Especially when you had five days to prepare for this game? And this happens often?
But that was the case tonight.
Whether you felt the officiating was that bad (it wasn’t) or that Manchester was that good (I guess) or that there was something else affecting the game (the captain was out with an unexplained eye injury) through the first two periods, I can’t imagine anyone looked at the Komets tonight and thought they were giving it their all.
“It’s a mental thing with this team right now. We’re kind of in our own heads a little bit,” said forward Kyle Thomas, whose Komets gave up the first three goals and 18 of the first 30 shots, but did pull within one goal on Brett Perlini and Garrett Meurs third-period goals.
“We just need to flip that switch as soon as we get to the rink. It’s got to be on until we leave. If we do that, this team will be fine, more than fine.”
Thankfully, no one I spoke with denied that the Komets didn’t come to the rink ready.
So whose fault is that? Anyone who follows me on twitter (@sportsicohn) saw that there were some fans blaming coach Gary Graham. I just don’t see that. He can’t make the players skate hard. He can’t make them adhere to the systems. He can only give them the blueprint. And if they don’t abide, he can ship them off.
I don’t buy that there’s something wrong with Graham’s systems. They were good enough to knock off the No. 1 seed in the 2014 playoffs and get to Game 7 against the top seed last season. It’s possible they don’t want to play for him, but I don’t get that vibe this season and, if there’s something I’ve really learned through the years, it’s that players play for themselves not the coach.
So, we get back to the basic question: Why aren’t these guys going hard for the full 60 minutes? I guess that’s about leadership. You think Colin Chaulk, who will return to the Coliseum on Saturday as coach of the Brampton Beast, would have stood for this when the ‘C’ was on his jersey? The core players on this team – that’s Jamie Schaafsma, Mike Embach, Drew Daniels, Shawn Szydlowski, Jordon Southorn – have to step up and get this team going as soon as they hit the ice and until they are off it. They have to lead by example and stay on everyone else to follow.
“The coaching staff’s job is to get these guys as prepared as possible. We try to do our best to get the guys ready to go. But right now our biggest enemy is what’s between our two ears. That’s black and white and it is the way it is right now,” Graham said.
As an aside, why was Spencer Martin in net tonight? Tell me it wasn’t just because the Colorado Avalanche had a goaltending coach here. I mean, I guess if they say jump, you jump, but the Komets were coming off a bad home loss and I would have thought Pat Nagle would have been the choice. He wound up in the game in the third period anyway.
Part of the problem is that everyone – management, Graham, fans, even media – had high expectations for this season’s team. Not only is it just above .500, it’s the same story every night it seems -- lack of consistent effort, bad penalties, not playing the systems.
Graham said it’s a good thing that the Komets have a bunch of games coming up because they need to work out of this on the ice. That might be true. But if these guys don’t show something quick, like first period Saturday, I would make some big moves.
“We’ve shown a few times throughout the season that we have another gear, but we haven’t consistently stayed in that high gear. We’ve proved to ourselves, and to everyone, that we can win games. But we haven’t put it together for a full 60 minutes often enough,” Thomas said.