TOLEDO – The Komets were in the ECHL’s strongest division this season and faced an extremely tough road in the playoffs, having to take on the Kalamazoo Wings and then the Toledo Walleye. Were they in another division, they might still be playing.
A 5-2 loss Wednesday to the Walleye in Game 7 of the North Division finals ended the Komets’ 63rd season. But the Komets still feel as if it was a successful third season in the ECHL, one that provided plenty of high points and should set them up well for next season.
"Even though it’s difficult to lose a game like this, I only have high praise for this group," said coach Gary Graham, who has taken the Komets to a 84-42-18 regular-season record and a 13-10 playoff mark over two seasons, getting to the conference semifinals twice.
"After everything we went though this season with the injuries to key guys, with all the call-ups, with all the goalies we had win us games throughout the year, we had the best home-ice record throughout the regular season and we were undefeated on home ice during the playoffs. We had multiple guys receive awards throughout the season, and we had a lot of guys called up. That was the biggest thing for me in the offseason, getting guys opportunities, and I think some guys will get good ones this offseason."
For the first time, the Komets were affiliated with the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche and helped the progression of players such as Mitchell Heard, Garrett Meurs, Joey Leach and Roman Will. While the future of the affiliation is uncertain – the Avalanche’s American Hockey League operations are moving from nearby Cleveland to San Antonio – the Komets showed they can develop players and win while doing so.
If they don’t renew with Colorado, they hope to affiliate with another NHL team.
Shawn Szydlowski, Eric Faille, Pat Nagle, Mike Embach and Matthew Pistilli all earned call-ups to other AHL teams this season, too.
The Komets went 48-18-6 in the regular season as Szydlowski was named First Team All-League, Will made the All-Rookie Team and Drew Daniels was tied with Florida’s Mike Little for the top plus/minus rating in the league at plus-46.
The Komets endured some major injuries throughout the season: Szydlowski missed the final four games of the playoffs with a torn knee ligament; Paul Crowder missed much of the season with a high ankle sprain; Leach missed the postseason with a wrist injury; Mikael Tam was out most of the regular season with a shoulder injury; and captain Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock was unable to fight after a midseason eye injury.
But the Komets had a knack all season long for being resilient.
"This was probably the most fun I’ve had in Fort Wayne over the last six years, despite not coming out with a championship," Schrock said. "This group, I had a good feeling about it. That’s the disappointing part. But just the way we battled all year. Even down 3-0 in the first period (Wednesday); we were able to look back to the first game of the year, when we were down 3-nothing to Indy and won that game. We came back (in Game 7), but we just didn’t have enough to overcome that deficit."
In the North Division finals, the Komets won all three games at Memorial Coliseum in overtime, thanks to goals by Embach, all-star James Martin and Brett Perlini, but they finished the season 0-6 at the Huntington Center.
The Komets will move to the Western Conference next season. While they will still face Toledo and Kalamazoo in the regular season, they will only be able to meet in the playoffs in the Kelly Cup Finals.
After winning two of four playoff series in their first three ECHL seasons, though, they need to make a conference finals first.