Last year was the strangest Komets' season in recent memory, but this year could set a new definition for adversity.
There must have been plenty of times over the past week-and-half when Komets coach Al Sims had to double-clutch on the bench as he called out lines. Because of injuries and the end of the National Hockey League lockout, he couldn't be sure the players he wanted to call out were actually there to send out.
``I have to look at my scorecard just to make sure I get the names right,'' Sims joked this week.
Playing 15 games in the 24 days since Christmas, the Komets could have fallen apart. They lost captain Colin Chaulk to a shoulder injury and then a foot infection, leading goal scorer Josh Brittain to a call-up, then second-leading goal scorer Thomas Beauregard to a shoulder injury and top Norfolk prospect Luca Caputi to another shoulder injury.
Then the lockout ended and things got worse as Ryan Hegarty, Brandon Marino, J.M. Rizk, Nick Schaus, Garrett Klotz and Matt Kennedy joined Brittain in Norfolk, Daniel Maggio went to Bridgeport and Brent Hensley to Lake Erie.
That meant General Manager David Franke had to find a half-a-dozen new bodies somewhere within two days. The Komets called up Jeremy Gates, John Dunbar and Ron Cramer from Pensacola of the Southern Professional Hockey League and Nick Wheeler, Mike Hoban and Brayden Metz from Dayton of the Federal Hockey League.
Last Wednesday night, the Komets played with a franchise-record 11 rookies in the lineup and without 80 of the 120 goals they had scored on the season, including six of their top seven scorers. They were also a man short of a full roster. With Kenny Reiter playing great in net, they won anyway in Evansville 1-0.
This brutal stretch and a few battles with the flu should have buried the Komets, but they somehow survived and have a chance to be stronger because of it. They went 8-7 during the stretch despite using three goaltenders and 29 players overall.
Two losses over the weekend meant the stretch wasn't as good as it could have been, but the Komets are exhausted. Before Christmas, they played 10 games in 16 days meaning they went 13-11-1 over the last 44 days. Not great, but not bad.
The last two games proved the Komets still need some big help, as in bigger bodies. They need to get larger to compete, but also so their own smaller players, who have most of their offensive skill, can find room to move. The little guys have heart, but they need help in front of both goals.
Now the schedule gets much easier the rest of the season. The Komets play only two games over the next 11 days, and then the final 27 games are spaced out over 58 days. There only two weekends when they play three-games-in-three nights and the only significant trips are for three games in Colorado and two in South Carolina.
Now they have time to practice, get healthy and try forging a hot streak. Despite everything they've been through, the Komets are still in contention for first place in the ECHL North and for home-ice advantage in the first and maybe even second rounds of the playoffs.
All that despite winning more than two games in a row only once all season.
Now that's really strange.