The Journal Gazette
Saturday, March 14, 2020 1:00 am

Boudreau planning for season to resume

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

A day after the ECHL's 2019-20 season had been placed on hold, there was no clarity Friday on if it will be resumed in the coming weeks.

But Komets coach Ben Boudreau was still heading to the office to make use of the time.

“As far as coaching, I'm going into work. I'm not saying that summer vacation has started,” Boudreau said.

ECHL teams were unable to conduct practices or other team activities – to try and limit exposure to COVID-19 – but Boudreau and assistant Olivier Legault could still do myriad things such as break down game film of Fort Wayne's games this season, watch opponents' already-played games, or brush up on systems and techniques used by others teams throughout hockey.

“I'm finding a way to say, 'OK, how do we make sure this team is ready? What's the next plan? What have we got to do?' ” Boudreau said.

Even if the ECHL doesn't pick back up, and most people within the ECHL are skeptical it will, getting a bead on new players for this, or next, season was already a priority for Boudreau.

One thing he wanted was to brush up on players who had exhausted their eligibility in the college or junior ranks. The Komets' most recent game, a 7-2 victory at Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday over the Wichita Thunder, saw Stefanos Lekkas stop 32 of 34 shots in his first game out of the University of Vermont.

“There are still graduating players. Are they going to be available?” Boudreau said. “If you're not working, somebody else is.”

The pool of available players may change. The NCAA, on Friday, granted another year of eligibility to players in spring sports who lost their seasons because of the coronavirus. The NCAA was still considering possible relief for student-athletes in winter sports, including hockey, who lost part of their seasons, though most hockey teams had already completed play as scheduled.

The Komets had two of the ECHL's most promising rookies this season in Alan Lyszczarczyk, who was fifth among first-year players in scoring with 19 goals and 46 points in 57 games, and Matthew Boudens, who had 10 goals and 20 points in 43 games and dropped back to play defense the last three games.

Max Gottlieb, Mason Bergh, Stephen Baylis and Dylan Ferguson were other standout rookies from Fort Wayne, but they came to Fort Wayne through working relationships with the Vegas Golden Knights and Los Angeles Kings.

The Komets (31-28-8) are in third place in the Central Division with 10 games left in the regular season. The top four teams in the Central Division would have made the postseason and Fort Wayne was six points up on the Indy Fuel and nine points back of the Toledo Walleye, which had been slated to play Friday night at Memorial Coliseum until the ECHL suspended play Thursday afternoon.

Should the ECHL resume play, scenarios have been posited on internal calls, including picking up where it left off, going directly to playoffs, or having an abbreviated postseason.

The Komets were seeking their first title since 2012 in the Central Hockey League.

“Our focus is still very much to try and win,” Boudreau said. “We hope the season is still on and we want to compete for a championship. That was the goal from Day 1.”

Fort Wayne's players are getting paid during the ECHL's suspension of season.

“We're going to stay ready to play,” Boudreau said. “We all want to play. There's no question we want to play – we all want to finish this thing out – and there's a belief that we've got a unique team here and we've been able to prove that all (season) when we're healthy. We've got a good team. I don't think anybody wants to leave the season with unfinished business.”

While ECHL play is suspended, a league source told The Journal Gazette, teams are mandated to pay players' salaries; hold only one team meeting and then disallow team activities, including practices; make locker rooms off limits; and continue to treat injured players.

Were a team to not pay players, the Professional Hockey Players Association would get involved, the source said.

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