Komets notes: Jamie Schaafsma, defenseman; playing smarter and a great month

Komets' captain Jamie Schaafsma has done a good job switching between forward and defenseman. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)

So you’re Jamie Schaafsma, captain of the Komets and you’ll do just about anything for your team because it’s a leadership thing. Then, because of injuries, call-ups and illness, the coach asks if you mind playing defenseman, and it’s not just a few shifts on the power play, but a few games.

“It was a little terrifying at first,” the veteran said. “My first two games I was worried to kind of step up or go into the offensive zone at all. I was just thinking defense, and now I’m more confident and I’m learning all the time. When you aren’t used to playing a position you are constantly learning, and now I feel like I’m making the adjustments.”

Well, he could have said no, but the Komets were stuck. They couldn’t find a replacement they liked, and frankly, they trusted Schaafsma better than anyone they could have brought in. Because nobody can ever find enough of them, there’s a reason the first four or five players Fort Wayne signs over the summer are defensemen.

“I made a few mistakes the other night in Wheeling, but I learned from it,” Schaafsma said after Saturday’s win over Quad City. “It’s a big challenge, but I’m trying to do what I’m asked around here, and right now I’m having fun doing it.”

He played a six or seven-game stretch on the blueline with Allen a few years ago, but usually, he’s a lot more comfortable playing on either wing or center. The interesting thing is that Schaafsma is plus-7 on defense and minus-3 while playing forward.

Komets coach Gary Graham praises Schaafsma for playing efficiently and simply while on defense, quickly moving the puck. The interesting thing might be if Schaafsma’s versatility will help save the Komets a playoff roster spot. If and when Dan Maggio returns from Tucson of the AHL, the Komets will have seven defensemen and Schaafsma could fill the eighth spot.

“It’s still a little bit nerve-wracking at times when you are in a close game,” Schaafsma said. “You make one mistake back there, and they get a good scoring chance. I feel like they know you are a forward and they are trying to take advantage of that, so right now I’m just trying to do my best to move it quickly. Definitely, if you are playing D, you control your plus-minus more. As long as I’m not hurting the team out there, it’s going well.”

Clamping down

When the Komets were scoring 70 goals over 12 games a couple weeks ago, their defensive coverage slipped a bit, and the offense covered up a few lapses at the other end of the ice. Defense was the focus last week in practice, and the Komets responded by allowing seven goals in three games.

“That’s a good start,” Graham said.

The Komets still lead the ECHL in scoring at 4.29 per game, but they should also be a good defensive team playing in front of Michael Houser and Garrett Bartus. They are tied for seventh at 2.94 goals against per game.

Have you noticed?

For most of the season the Komets were a very undisciplined team as far as penalties, especially taking them in the offensive zone, as opponents averaged more than one extra power-play per game than Fort Wayne. They’ve done a much better job of late, though. Through the first nine games of February, the Komets have had 29 power-play chances compared to 27 for their opponents. That’s a huge factor if they can remain disciplined throughout the rest of the season, as too many penalties killed them the last three years during the playoffs.

Graham gave credit for the change to his captains council of Schaafsma, Cody Sol and Shawn Szydlowski.

“I think we’re moving our feet,” Schaafsmsa said. “The big thing in this league is the stickwork, the hooking and stuff like that. We’ve made a point to guys to keep their stick down, move their feet and just work harder, basically. Last year we had a reputation as kind of being a bruiser team… We had a big D-core, and this year I feel like we have a more skilled team and maybe refs are giving us more of the benefit of the doubt. I think last year, too, we seemed to take a lot of O-zone penalties. Guys now are being smart, and we’ve done a great job in that area.”

Great month

The Komets are 8-0-1 during February with three games remaining. There have been only three times in team history when the Komets went through a full month without a loss in regulation. They were 11-0-0 in December 1959 when they finished 50-16-2, went 7-0-1 in October 2001 and 13-0-1 in March 2008. Among other great months, they were 12-1-1 in February 1992, 13-2-2 in December 2004 and 13-1-1 in March 2009.

Just leaving this here

The way this season is going, it might be important to understand how the ECHL breaks ties.

The first criteria is regular-season wins (excluding shootout wins), the second is goal differential and the third is head-to-head points. Fourth is winning percentage in the division, fifth is winning percentage in the conference, sixth is goals for and seventh is goals against. If all of those measurements don’t break the tie, it comes down to a coin flip.

Icing the puck

Don’t forget to “Pink The Rink” this weekend as the Komets and Vera Bradley try to raise money to fight breast cancer… The Komets are 21-10-2 against Central Division foes, which is excellent considering the teams in the division started the week with a combined 86-47-8 mark against the other three divisions… The Komets are also 32-1-0 when they score four or more goals in a game… Since Nov. 19, the Komets are 29-8-1. So much for slow starts… Curtis Leonard leads the ECHL in plus-minus at plus-32, followed by Shawn Szydlowski at plus 31, Gabriel Desjardins at plus-30 and Cody Sol is tied with Colorado’s Matt Garbowsky at plus-27 for fourth. Ryan Lowney is also plus-25 to rank second among rookies, and Bobby Shea is tied with Lowney for third among defensemen at plus-25. Mason Baptista is also plus-24 and Garrett Thompson is plus-21.