Unlike the season's first couple months, the Fort Wayne Komets are no longer a disastrous goal waiting to happen. They've turned up their team defense and through all the adversity may have found a No. 1 goaltender.
In four games last week, newcomer Ben Meisner went 2-0-1 with a 2.00 goals against average and .943 save percentage, including making 29 saves in Sunday's 4-2 win over Kalamazoo. He's been a big part of the Komets' 4-0-3 run since coming from Utah in a trade with a 2-8-1 record.
``They were getting 1.8 goals per game, but he was playing well,'' Komets coach Gary Graham said. ``What I like about him is that his college coach said he came to the rink every day and worked hard. He made the practices better because he competes so hard and he makes everybody in practice earn their goals. He's a competitor and that's why he's here.''
Because he's smaller than most ECHL goaltenders at 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, Meisner never seems to slow down, shifting from side to side and bobbing up and down like he's playing ping pong to see around bigger forwards and his defenseman. He's quick and athletic but also very disciplined.
``I have to manage my frame,'' he said. ``Inches are everything to me. It's important for me to be in the right place at the right time and let the puck hit me as much as possible. I'm very quick and have good speed and use that to my advantage. I can sprawl if I need to. I don't like to. I like to play a simple, calm game, and I feel like I did that these last three games.''
He's reminiscent of former Komet goaltender Pokey Reddick in that when the puck comes, Meisner is calm and stationary, usually doing a good job of controlling his rebounds or covering up for a face-off. At times, he seems to be joining the defensemen in front of him in the battle, fighting off opponents' shots and rushes, flinging rebounds out with this blocker and his pads, pushing around players trying to screen him.
``Teams say small goalies can't see, but I'm quite good at seeing around things,'' Meisner said. ``I have to be moving all the time because there is always guys crossing lanes and I have to really battle to see around guys, but I don't have a problem with it. If they want to put guys in front of me, go for it.''
He also comes out of his crease to challenge open shooters, giving them less to aim for. Besides clearing rebounds and back-checking, the Komets are also starting to do a better job of building a protective wall around their goaltender, shoving opponents back, either through a forearm to the chest or a glove to the face.
It was apparent all weekend the Komets were gaining confidence from Meisner as the games progressed. They were less worried about him and more concerned with keeping the opponents away. If he could see the shot, he could make the save.
``We're just looking for someone back there who gives us a chance to win,'' said left wing Chris Auger who scored two goals on Sunday. ``I think we're playing really solid hockey right now. We're just asking our goalies to make the first save and we're doing a better job of clearing out the second rebounds. The goalies had to step up as well as the players. We're happy about that.''
Considering the world was supposed to fall in after Christmas when Mike Vaskivuo and Mickey Lang left the team, the Komets are happy about a lot of things, and it's starting to show in their record.