Garrett Meurs had been in the stands during six straight playoff games, watching as the Komets finished off the Cincinnati Cyclones in Game 7 of the first round and swept the Utah Grizzlies in the second round.
After the Western Conference finals with the defending champion Allen Americans began, it was quickly apparent the series would be marked by physical and fast-paced hockey, so coach Gary Graham inserted Meurs, a 23-year-old forward, into the lineup for Sunday’s Game 2.
The resulting 3-2 overtime loss put the Komets in an 0-2 hole in the best-of-seven series, but Meurs performed well by scoring a goal off a redirection and attacking the net hard.
"I thought he brought some energy," Graham said. "Game conditioning is going to be a factor right now because he hadn’t played (since April 25), but he brought some energy to the lineup. He was taking the puck hard to the net, which he needs to do, and I liked what he did."
The series, which continues Thursday in Allen, Texas, has already had four fights, a pregame shouting match, 11- and 10-player post-whistle melees, and it’s been just the sort of vibe that Meurs thrives upon.
"They’re fun to play, those gritty games, and I just try to go out there and play my game. That’s pretty gritty so it works well in this series," said Meurs, a 2011 fifth-round draft pick of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche.
Meurs played 30 regular-season games with the Komets in 2014-15, totaling 12 goals, 22 points and 42 penalty minutes. In the playoffs, he had three goals, six points and 16 penalty minutes in 10 games as the Komets reached the seventh game of the second round before losing to Toledo.
This season, he had 18 goals, 35 points and 68 penalty minutes in 51 regular-season games – he also played three times with San Antonio of the higher-level American Hockey League – and he’s totaled one goal, two points and six penalty minutes in four playoff games this year.
The Komets have struggled throughout the playoffs with taking penalties, which is why Meurs, who likes to antagonize opponents, may have had trouble cracking the lineup. The Komets also have a lot of depth at forward, sitting in Game 2 on Sunday were Paul Crowder, Taylor Crunk and David Friedmann.
But Meurs had two shots on goal and didn’t take a penalty in his return, but the Americans won on Gary Steffes’ overtime redirection goal at Memorial Coliseum.
"I felt pretty good," Meurs said. "Obviously, I just wanted to contribute any way I can, coming back in. I thought we played a pretty good game. We didn’t execute the way we wanted to, though, and we made a few mistakes and they capitalized."
The Komets lost the first two games at home in the first round and were able to win two of three road games to force the series back to the Coliseum. Now, they have to do the same thing against the Americans, who won championships the last three seasons.
"We just need to go back to making the simple plays, get the pucks in deep, grind them down low. We’ve been playing a lot in the neutral zone, and we want to be playing more in their end," Meurs said.
Notes: The ECHL hasn’t yet determined if there will be supplementary discipline from the Sunday fracas during warm-ups when Allen’s Spencer Asuchak skated behind goalie Spencer Martin and gouged him with a stick. Prior to that, Allen’s Dyson Stevenson and Fort Wayne’s Gabriel Beaupre flicked pucks at opponents. The ECHL will likely make a decision today.