BLAKE SEBRING: Komets’ brotherhood has turned things around

Komets center Dennis Kravchenko tangles with Toledo's Kevin Gibson during the second period. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)
Komets goaltender Michael Houser makes a save on Toledo's Kevin Gibson during the first period. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)
Gabriel Desjardins beats Toledo goaltender Matej Machovsky for Fort Wayne's second goal during the second period. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)
Mason Baptista backchecks against Toledo star forward Kyle Bonis. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)

After Thanksgiving weekend, the Fort Wayne Komets were 8-6-2 and couldn’t seem to pop the clutch on their season. They couldn’t put two consistent periods together let along two games.

But somehow within one month, they grew from being underachievers into a brotherhood that looks unbeatable.

The Komets completed December with a 12-2 mark after Sunday night’s 3-0 win of arch-rival Toledo before a sellout Memorial Coliseum crowd of 10,479 for the traditional New Year’s Eve game. After that performance, bet almost all of them come back sometime. Heck, the Komets were so good they even performed on par with The Voice runner-up Addison Agen’s national anthem.

What the Komets have accomplished is remarkable, the fourth-best month in the franchise’s 66-year history, but consider that it’s been a total team effort. Sure, Shawn Szydlowski scored 11 goals and 22 points in 13 games to take over the ECHL scoring lead, and goaltender Michael Houser was 9-1 with a 2.10 goals against average and .930 save percentage, but every player has been a star during some three- or four-game stretch of the turnaround.

“Everyone is pulling the same rope and it’s a lot of fun,” alternate captain Cody Sol said. “The locker room is getting tighter and tighter. It’s just consistency because when we lose one, we get that all back the next game. It’s just a lot of fun and it’s contagious. Everyone is filling in and it’s cool to see.”

As an example, when the month started, Mason Baptista and Ryan Lowney were sitting in the stands, Louick Marcotte was trying to find a way to play after being traded from Wichita and Logan Nelson had just arrived in town hoping to find someplace he could stick after being with three teams already.

During December, Baptista scored six goals and 17 points and was plus-17. Lowney had six points in 11 games and was plus-9. After fighting his way off the waiver bubble, Marcotte earned some playing time and scored 10 points in 12 games. Nelson scored nine points in 14 games, won almost every faceoff and was plus-9.

And these were all the guys sitting in the stands just hoping for a chance when the month started.

“It’s called depth,” Baptista said. “It’s what (coach Gary Graham) and (General Manager David Franke) preach around here, wait for your opportunities, pay your dues and be patient and good things will happen as long as you keep working as hard as you can. When spots open up and guys move on, everyone fills in those roles, and everyone wants to be here. Everyone understands we are working for a team here, and to win a championship, and everything else comes after that.”

But as much as every Komet is filling up the stat sheet, they are winning games because of the little things that don’t get counted like cutting down on turnovers, blocking shots, backchecking, limiting rebounds, crashing the net and screening opposing goaltenders.

As an example, Baptista got caught out as the only forechecking forward during a third-period shift, but he hustled for 30 seconds to harass the Toledo players to ice the puck. He was the only player attacking three Walleye at the time. Most of the crowd didn’t understand the effort, but the folks in that end gave him a nice hand.

They never let Toledo breathe on Sunday night, competing for every loose puck, never allowing the Walleye snipers room to shoot or get close to Houser. Toledo had 37 shots on goal, but probably 25 came from near the blue line because that’s all that was available.

“We’re taking care of the defensive zone and it’s leading to offensive chances,” Nelson said. “It’s just fun atmosphere to come into. We have a hard team to play against.”

And that offense leads the ECHL in scoring, but the team defense has been amazing. Szydlowski and Baptista were plus-17 for the month, Bobby Shea was plus-15 (after being minus-11 at one point), Curtis Leonard was plus-14, Gabriel Desjardins was plus-12 and Ryan Culkin and Garrett Thompson were plus-11. Those are pinball numbers.

“It all comes down to the team,” Lowney said. “It just shows how our team can win battles, and when we are winning it’s easy for everyone to put those pluses up. You do your job and help your team win by just playing together.”

Also consider, the Komets won three of four games last week without captain Jamie Schaafsma, Justin Hodgman, Marc-Olivier Roy or Artie Tynulin in the lineup for all or most of the week. Schaafsma scored six goals in the seven games he played this month, and Roy and Tynulin combined for five goals in seven games.

They’ll be back eventually, but they’ll have to earn their spots back because right now it’s hard to see who comes out of the lineup.

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

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