Over the last 15 years, hockey has changed the way the rules are interpreted, and few have had a better view than Fort Wayne's Mark Wilkins.
During his 29-year career, Wilkins has called games in seven International Hockey League Turner Cup Finals, a Canada Cup, a World Championship, an NCAA Championship and 10 NCAA Regionals. He's worked in every league below the National Hockey League, calling more than 2,000 games.
Wilkins, 48, is hanging up his whistle after the upcoming CCHA playoffs. He worked his last regular-season game two weeks ago in Lake Superior State with a chosen on-ice staff of buddies.
"The fun has started to go out of it and it has become a job,'' said Wilkins, who is also the chief operating officer and chief financial officer for Alconex Magnet Wire. "The travel has taken the fun out of it.''
Over the last three years, Wilkins estimated he's driven more than 115,000 miles. During his career, he worked 15 years in the IHL and the last 14 in the CCHA. He'll join the ECHL supervisory staff to help the current on-ice staff and continue to serve on the board of directors for USA Hockey.
"The speed of the game is much faster now,'' he said. "Players are stronger and faster. You see much more skill level at the ECHL and college level than you saw in the past. There's completely less physical play, more finesse. I don't think there's as much emphasis on physical play.''
Part of that is because of the way the leagues want the rules called. When Wilkins was working in the IHL, ECHL and American Hockey League at the same time in the 1990s, that meant there were three different interpretations to manage.
"You refereed sometimes by which supervisor was in the building,'' he said. "Some supervisors wanted you to let them play, so that's what you did. Now video tells the story. If you are not making the penalty calls, nobody has to be there to make that decision because they can watch the video.''
Fewer referees have a distinctive style anymore as leagues have taken the judgment call away from them.
"When the NHL went on strike, the colleges went to a strict play and the NHL went to a strict play, but I see that loosening again, not so much with clutch and grabbing, but I would say with a little bit more of the holding and pushing to the boards that they aren't as tight on as they were,'' he said. "The standard from period in Game 1 to period three in Game 7 is much more consistent. It used to be in the playoffs, you'd let them play. Now there's more emphasis on letting the skill players play, and it's not a free-wheeling. The decision making from a referee's standpoint has changed.''
With 12 trades, it may seem like the Komets have used a lot of players this season, but it's actually been only 38, which so far is three fewer than they used last season. The franchise record is 52 in 1996-97.
Chris Auger, Brandon Marino, Kaleigh Schrock, Scott Fleming, Simon Danis-Pepin, Joe Hartman and Jace Coyle are the only players who have been here since opening night.
With 10 victories, the Komets need to win a few more games to avoid posting the fewest home wins in their 62-year franchise history. They won only 15 in 1996-97. Along with last year's 16 home wins, the Komets will easily set the franchise record for worst back-to-back home seasons.
The Komets are essentially fighting with Florida, Wheeling and Evansville for the final two playoff spots in the ECHL's Eastern Conference, and there are some schedule quirks. Florida finishes with nine consecutive home games. Evansville plays six in a row at home and finishes with eight on the road. Wheeling finishes with five of seven at home.
The Komets are in the midst of playing five of six at home. After next week's two-game trip to South Carolina, they finish the season by playing five of six at home.
Icing the puck
The second Tip-A-Komet of the season will be held 6:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Applebee's on North Clinton Street. Proceeds benefit the Vera Bradley Foundation. ... Sunday's win was Fort Wayne's 200th all-time win over a Toledo team (200-155-3-27t) since Oct. 25, 1952, when the Komets made their Fort Wayne pro debut with a 4-0 loss to the Mercurys at Memorial Coliseum. ... The Komets are 20-0-2 when reaching four or more goals in a game this year. ... Brandon Marino (RW) has not gone more than two games in a row without a point since Jan. 17. Since then, he has scored eight goals and 24 assists for 32 points in 24 games. ... Among the former Komets expected to participate in Sunday's alumni game at Kalamazoo are John Hilworth (D), Brian McKee (D), Ron Leef (F), Jimmy Logan (F), Kevin Bertram (D), Konstantin Shafranov (F), Kelly Hurd (F), Adam Lewis (F), Steve Fletcher (F) and Olivier Legault (F). Serving as coaches will be Robbie Irons (G), George Drysdale (F), Chuck Adamson (G) and Eddie Long. The game starts at 1 p.m.