BLAKE SEBRING: Komets entering critical 10-game stretch
Starting Tuesday night, the next 10 games will determine the ultimate success of the Fort Wayne Komets’ regular season.
No, it’s just getting to that time of the season and that’s how the schedule sets up. It’s something interesting to look at, and believe me, the players have already figured this out and know how important the next three weeks will be.
Partly, this stretch is important because eight of the 10 games are on the road. After climbing onto the bus last night, the Komets start a schedule of five consecutive road games at Wichita tomorrow night, followed by two games in Kansas City and one at Quad City to complete the weekend, and then a March 9 game at Kalamazoo. Then they come home for Hall of Fame weekend to host Cincinnati and Kalamazoo before taking a three-game road trip to Reading, Adirondack and Worcester.
After playing 10 games in 19 days in eight cities, the Komets finish the regular season by playing five of their final nine games at home. There’s also that April 6 game at Toledo which everyone is looking forward to.
Why is this stretch so important? Well, coach Gary Graham will hate this because it’s looking too far ahead — and it is, frankly — but everyone is looking forward to/hoping for another playoff series between Fort Wayne and Toledo because the two teams produce such great hockey. The Walleye have knocked the Komets out of the playoffs two of the past three seasons partly because of the home-ice advantage. This Fort Wayne stretch may determine that advantage for this spring.
The Komets lost their ECHL Central Division lead on Sunday as Toledo jumped them by one point after beating Greenville 5-2 at home.
“We talked about taking care of the month of February,” Graham said after Saturday’s win over Greenville. “We’ve got one more game left, but we wanted to bank as many points because we’re going to get a heavy challenge in March. It’s a heavy workload, it’s a challenging schedule against good opponents, most of them over .500 so it’s going to be an important stretch down the road. Wichita is not an easy place to go in and win.”
However, the Komets are a good road team, winning four in a row and seven of their last eight. They are also 10-0-1 so far in February with one game to go.
The Walleye have already made their extended road trips to the East Coast (going 2-0-1 in October) and to the West (going 1-2 at Kansas City in January). Toledo finishes the schedule by playing nine of 17 games at home, including that critical April 6 game against the Komets.
Besides the travel, Fort Wayne’s schedule is also tougher in terms of competition. The Walleye have seven games remaining against teams that are currently in playoff position, while the Komets have 13.
The race may come down to the two game-in-hand contests the Komets have on the Walleye, which won’t be converted until the final game of the regular season. Toledo will end its regular season on Saturday, April 7 at Indy, while Fort Wayne ends its regular season with home games April 7 against Wheeling and April 8 against Cincinnati.
The Komets also have a chance of finishing first in the Western Conference and possibly first in the overall league race. With 78 points, Toledo leads the Komets by one point and Colorado by two in the Western Conference. Florida also has 78 points and holds a two-point lead over South Carolina in the Eastern Conference. The Everblades have played two more games than the Stingrays.
With 17 games remaining, Colorado plays 10 games at home and seven games against playoff teams. Florida has 18 games remaining with 12 being played at home and only five games against playoff teams. South Carolina has 20 games remaining but only eight are home games and 13 are against teams currently in playoff position.
It’s going to be a challenge for the Komets over these final 19 games, but so was building a 31-8-1 record since Nov. 19. All 19 games remaining mean something, but these next 10 are probably most important.
It sure beats watching a team play meaningless games and coasting until the playoffs begin.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of News-Sentinel.com. Email Blake Sebring at firstname.lastname@example.org.