Sometimes the Fort Wayne Komets are actually a better hockey team because they are so boring.
Though Fort Wayne has the second-highest average attendance in minor league hockey, the Komets often seem to produce their best games away from Memorial Coliseum. Part of that is the experience they've had the last five years winning great road playoff games. Now they expect to always play well away from home no matter how good their opponent.
``More than anything, I think it's our veteran leadership, and the guys we have back from last year when we had a good road record,'' Komets coach Al Sims said after Saturday's 6-5 win at Kalamazoo. ``I think the guys feel a little bit more pressure at home with the fans. We should be more excited and better, but maybe sometimes maybe we're too jacked and that doesn't help us. On the road we play the way we're supposed to, conservative and don't take the extra chances with the turnovers and that helps us.''
Last year, the Komets were 21-11-1 away from home compared to 19-8-6 at home, and early this season they are 3-0-1 on the road compared to 2-2 at home.
They'll also admit their gameplan on the road is aimed at making everyone in the building so bored they fall asleep. They sit back in their neutral zone trap and counterpunch with their transition game rather than try to force the knockout goal. They let the opponents beat themselves by trying to force the puck through the trap and then take off for the other end with the turnovers the defense produces.
They could care less how good they look everywhere but on the scoreboard.
``There are no distractions, and you don't worry about being hot at home,'' center Brett Smith said. ``You play hard and play a lot more simple, and we seemed to do that last year and it has carried over to this year.''
It's not that they are playing soft on the road, but rather that they are playing smart, proving how good they are at winning tight, low-scoring games. They continually pump the puck in deep and and force the opponents to lug it up 200 feet to get scoring chances. The Komets are also great at winning faceoffs and continually putting pressure on the defense with a strong forecheck. They don't play a ``prevent'' defense but force the opponents to try making perfect passes.
When the Komets get a lead, you'll also hear captain Colin Chaulk screaming for his teammates to ``Stay up!'' which means crowding the blue line and limiting opponents' chances to carry the puck into the zone. They want to force opponents to dump the puck, and then the Komets usually win the race to it and knock it back out of the zone.
When the Komets get a lead during the third period, they are also deadly boring because they always keep a forward back close to the blue line to limit opponents' chances of getting an odd-man rush on the breakout. Opponents need a Fort Wayne mistake to score, and the longer into the schedule the Komets play, the fewer of those chances there are.
They don't care if the home crowd is impatient for something good to happen. They don't care if their power play doesn't shoot right away. They don't panic if they fall behind early, trusting their system to create chances with turnovers. They don't care if they give up a lot of shots from the perimeter for their goaltenders to handle.
``I think it's the style of play that we have,'' defenseman Brent Henley said. ``It's easier to stick to on the road, especially on smaller ice surfaces. Like everything else, it comes down to good goaltending. That's what is winning us hockey games. They have both been fantastic.''
Charlie Effinger and Marco Cousineau were strong over the weekend, and Kenny Reiter was a marvel in the two road games he played before getting recalled to Bridgeport of the American Hockey League. He got tagged with Fort Wayne's only road ``loss'' so far this season, and that was a 1-0 shootout decision in Kalamazoo. Guess he'll have to do better next time than a shutout.
The Komets' road tests may get a little stiffer coming up because Cousineau left Saturday's game late in the third period with a pulled groin. He couldn't put any weight on it and needed crutches to get out of the locker room. Former Komet Gerry Festa may get a call up from Dayton of the Federal Hockey League today.
The loss of Cousineau will be another challenge for the Komets who play two of their next three games on the road.
Oh, well, they'll just say that's nothing to get too excited about, either.