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Komets season ends: What went wrong

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For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blakesebring and at his blog, www.tailingthekomets.com.

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Komets season-ending party
Time: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday
Memorial Coliseum Appleseed Room

Team faced lots of obstacles in first ECHL season

Tuesday, April 2, 2013 - 4:01 am

This is the first time since 1997 the Komets finished with a losing record. It's only the fifth time in the franchise's 61-year history that the Komets put up a losing record at home.

How can that happen? There are plenty of reasons.

1. The ECHL is much different from the CHL, IHL or UHL. The Franke brothers and Fort Wayne fans had a lot to learn about the ECHL and working with affiliations. The NHL and AHL are always, ALWAYS about helping... the AHL and the NHL. And why wouldn't they be? Norfolk and Anaheim helped the Komets this year, but it wasn't enough.

The Anaheim organization doesn't have the depth of talent originally hoped for, at least not yet, and the Komets have to re-learn how to deal with some players' NHL-sized egos.

2. That said, the Komets needed better depth of their own. With all the call-ups and injuries, you can't survive in the ECHL without at least seven or eight solid defensemen and 12 good forwards, and usually that can't include A-level players. The team lacked size from the start.

3. Because of ECHL roster rules, a problem comes when the affiliate sends down three players, causing the ECHL team to get rid of three players to make room, and those released players go find other jobs. So what happens a week later when the AHL affiliate recalls those three players? ECHL teams have to scramble to find three new players.

ECHL teams need increased roster flexibility because it best serves their fans. Shouldn't ECHL fans, and not the AHL teams, be the priority for ECHL teams? ECHL fans are paying enough money for their tickets that they deserve better. There's really no excuse for teams having to use 50-60-70 players a season (the league average was 49). One or two teams? Sure, but not most of them.

No wonder fans get frustrated when they don't know whom they are watching from night to night.

4. Losing Chris Auger to an early knee injury was huge because he could score and make a team better all over the ice. The power play and penalty kill would have been a minimum 10 percent better at worst with Auger, and that might have meant the Komets would still be playing.

5. Losing Colin Chaulk to injuries for more than 50 games was monumental, and for most of those he wasn't around the team because he was in the hospital or healing. He's the guy who holds everyone together and accountable and makes them do what they are supposed to.

6. The Komets thought/hoped they were getting two defensemen from Norfolk/Anaheim, but they only got one for most of the season. When did they look their best? When Gabe Guentzel and/or Nick Schaus were around, but most of the time they were sitting in the stands in Norfolk.

When did the Norfolk players look their best and give their best effort? Whenever Anaheim Assistant General Manager Bob Ferguson was in the building. There was a noticeable difference.

7. Losing all-star defenseman Daniel Maggio to an AHL call-up was big, though maybe not everyone realized it at the time. Suddenly, the Komets had to rely on smaller rookies to play major minutes. When the Komets' all-star got called up, the defense fell apart.

8. Losing goaltender Kenny Reiter to a recall was even bigger. For three-quarters of the season, he was the team's best player. When Reiter and Maggio got called up within a day of each other, the Komets were five games over .500, in sixth place in the conference and were talking about challenging for the division lead.

They almost immediately went on a six-game losing streak and finished 8-15-2.

Without Auger, Chaulk, Maggio, Reiter and either Guentzel or Schaus, that's five legitimate, high-caliber ECHL players out of the lineup whom the Komets could not replace. They never had the depth to deal with that.

9. The chemistry in the locker room never came close to what it needed to be to make a long playoff run. When Chaulk was missing, they couldn't pull together enough to overcome a losing streak. Some players were out only for themselves, some didn't care to play the system and coach Al Sims ran out of answers.

10. The biggest problem for last: They never got going at home, especially on the power play. That's two years in a row the Komets have tried to fix the power play when one extra goal a night could have been incredibly important. If the team's road record and home record had been switched, almost everyone would have been a lot happier.

Those are reasons, not excuses, because every ECHL team went through similar things this year. Some just knew how to handle it better.

During this last 25-game stretch, the Komets lacked some very key players, and their confidence couldn't handle it. Should they have been able to? Maybe if the younger defensemen had improved significantly during the year, if J.M. Rizk had stayed hot, if Eric Giosa had been able to find the offensive touch after his injury, etc. If, if, if...

Losing Maggio and not getting Schaus/Guentzel on a more permanent basis was critical as much as anything. That's a No. 1 defensive pairing the Komets couldn't replace, and no team can survive that.

No one had a good season, not management, not the coaches, not the affiliate and not the players. Everyone was average, and that's reflected in the record. As much as everyone would like to identify a singular reason, there isn't one answer to what went wrong.

Tomorrow: What happens next

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Blake Sebring at bsebring@news-sentinel.com .