Collision course Komets, Mallards ready to create the memories we’ve all been waiting for

While Fort Wayne Komets fans have been waiting all season for the playoffs, the players have been waiting even longer. Ever since the Komets were eliminated last spring in Allen, the players have been looking forward to another chance at the postseason.

* Remember all the players talking at the end-of-season fan party, encouraging each other to come back?

* Remember captain Jamie Schaafsma saying, “Championship or bust,” when he re-signed June 29?

* Remember why 14 players came back from last year’s Western Conference finalists?

This time of year is why we’re all hockey fans. It’s not that the regular season isn’t important, but it can never feel as important because these games are where life-long memories are built for fans and players alike. The regular season builds the possibilities for once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that can only happen in the spring when everything means more.

“It’s important to have a good regular season and see how you stack up in the league,” Schaafsma said. “It’s good for us to see that we’re a top-four team in the league, and that has to give us the confidence to believe that we can win. If you look at past winners, I’m sure it’s not just the first-place team that wins every year. We built this team from Day 1 for a championship. Now is crunch time, and it’s going to be really exciting to see what this team can do in the playoffs”

Reading that, don’t you start to feel a little shiver?

“It’s not going to be easy, because there are a lot of really good teams,” Schaafsma continued. “The top four teams are in our conference, and it’s a battle just to make the playoffs, let alone win. We have a good hockey team, and when we play good hockey we are very hard to beat. We have to find a way to step up our game and bring it every night, learn how to play that playoff-style hockey and be disciplined.”

Playoff games are just different. The weather is warmer outside, but the arena is cooler inside to protect the ice. The fans are more animated, more demanding and somehow even more critical of the officiating, and the players are more of everything, more anxious to play, more aggressive, more emotional and energetic on every shift.

And it’s even better when there are playoff series against long-time rivals where there’s shared history and enmity with teams like Kalamazoo or Toledo, maybe Allen and, yes, Quad City. The Komets haven’t played Quad City in the postseason since 2003, but everybody remembers what happened back then, Dustin Virag dropping his gloves and waving on the bench after scoring the cup-clinching goal in overtime.

More shivers.

But each playoff year is also unique. This year, the Komets might be considered a bit of an underdog because they don’t have an NHL or an AHL affiliation. It’s just another level of texture for the inevitable “us against everyone” feel that builds the longer a team survives.

“There are some teams that right now who are getting some players from the AHL, and sometimes that works and is a big boost for teams and sometimes it messes with the chemistry a little bit,” Schaafsma said. “We know what we have here and what everyone can bring. It’s all about winning now. The regular season is about personal stats, and now it’s all about the team now and the commitment to winning every night.”

This year will also be different in another big way without the big guy.

For the first time in 63 years, Bob Chase won’t be here to narrate our spring memories and bring the shivers from the radio booth. If ever the Komets were going to try to win a championship for someone who has passed … well, no one ever believed in them more than Chase who passed at Thanksgiving. Now he’s just got the best seat in the house.

Nobody would be more excited to see what happens than him, the man who helped all of us build so many unforgettable memories.

It’s been a long enough wait. Drop the puck. <br>

<i>This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Blake Sebring at </i><br>

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Faceoff: Quad City at Komets, 8 p.m. tonight.

Radio: WOWO, 11-90 AM.