With four rookies and another player with 48 games of professional experience, the Fort Wayne Komets' blueliners are a little green. They are learning the pro game and how to play with each other at the same time.
Just like anyone in a learning situation, the young defensemen are spending a lot of time listening to their elders, veterans Tyler Butler and Brent Henley. Because there has been some mixing of the lineup recently, Komets coach Al Sims has also had to try some different defensive pairings.
Ideally, everyone would be experienced enough to be comfortable playing with everyone else on the back end of the lineup, but that's also where that youthful exuberance can be a factor. It's not easy trying to adjust to the professional level while playing with a different partner all the time.
``It takes a few games to figure out each other's tendencies, strengths and weaknesses and stuff like that,'' Butler said. ``It usually takes four or five games. You just talk about everything. It sounds simple, but you talk about every play afterward and talk about what I see and what he sees and make sure we're seeing the same thing.''
Butler has been playing with rookie Ryan Hegarty who last year played college hockey with Maine. The Anaheim Ducks hope Hegarty can become a regular-shift defenseman someday, but that process starts here by learning from Butler.
``I try to talk a lot because if you don't talk it becomes a guessing game,'' Hegarty said. ``The more you talk, the smoother things go. After a while, you experience plays with a partner, and after a month of games you are able to read and react better and predict each other's plays out there. You have to talk a lot to make sure you are on the same page.''
That talking just doesn't happen on the ice between partners. The other four or five defensemen sitting on the bench are also evaluating the play and talking about what the options are in every situation in case they get that opportunity on their next shift.
``One thing you try to do is establish communication among all seven or eight defensemen,'' Butler said. ``So when you do get thrust into something different, it's not all that new. If you see something on the ice, your partner sees something and the guys on the bench see something, you want to make sure that all the guys are seeing the same thing and talking about it.''
Eventually, after a few weeks of drilling in practices and playing in games, reacting to what their partner is doing becomes instinctual. The partners develop a trust that they know exactly what the other guy is going to do so they don't have to look for them, they can just float the pass over. That's not easy to do when there's a 220-pound winger trying to smack your head against the glass at the same time.
``We all play the same system so we know what to do,'' Daniel Maggio said.
But each player has his own style. Some are more stay-at-home defensemen, some love to rush the puck and help the forwards and some, like Butler, can do some of both. That's another reason to communicate so the partners know what the other likes to do.
``You just have to trust that they are going to be in their position and not running all over,'' Scott Kishel said. ``Communication is absolutely huge. It's just a matter of getting used to jumping in. It's pro hockey and every day getting a little bit better at it and getting more used to it.''
Eventually the regular pairs get adjusted and the players are familiar enough with each other even if they have to play with different partners sometimes.
``As long as everyone is communicating it makes life so much easier,'' Butler said. ``When you play D by committee, I'm not going to be playing with the same guys every shift so you have to make sure you're comfortable with everybody.''