Matt Woodard has seen this movie before. Groundhog Day, right?
Once more its October and hes sitting in a dressing room.
Once more Keith Rodger is in the same dressing room, three lockers down on the home side of Memorial Coliseums expansive ice.
Once more they are friends, teammates, a tandem on the blue line.
Hockeys just a small world, said Woodard, a rookie defenseman trying to carve out a place on the Fort Wayne Komets roster. And so we ended up in the same place.
If not exactly the same place.
Here, you see, is where the Groundhog Day analogy spits the bit: Rodger and Woodard, most recently teammates at American International College in Springfield, Mass., are indeed together again almost 800 miles west in Indiana. This time, though, theyre both competing for jobs as defensemen for the two-time IHL champs.
A friendly competition, said Komets coach Al Sims, whose team plays host to Muskegon at 8 p.m. today. I think its one of those things if youre friends your hoping the best for each other, but you still want to beat the other guy out.
Keiths one of my great friends; I knew him five or six years before we got to college, he said. But there are no guarantees in this world, definitely. So its a still a battle for positions right now.
In that, Rodger has something of a leg up. He joined the Komets late last season after playing 22 games for American International, playing 11 regular-season games and then 11 in the playoffs as a solid, position-savvy defenseman. He even scored two goals in the playoffs – something of a revelation considering hed scored just two in four seasons at American International.
Woodard, meanwhile, scored six goals and 29 points in four seasons at AIC, and when Sims called last spring looking for help on the blue line, he and Rodger were recommended by American International coach Gary Wright.
Rodg said, Ill leave right now and come and play, Sims said. So we never got onto Matt Woodard.
That came later – and if youre guessing that Rodger had some input in the decision to invite Woodard to camp, give yourself a gold star.
(Sims) actually called Rodg and asked him about me, Woodard said. So in a way, yeah, Rodg definitely helped me out.
Whether one will eventually get the nod over the other might not be an issue, as it turns out. Mindful of the run of injuries that nearly ruined the Komets last season, Sims would like to keep seven defensemen and perhaps eight.
We do hope to add a couple of defensemen, so hopefully they both make it, Sims said. I just think defensemen are hard to find. I hate to release guys I know can play, because come November, December, January, February, you cant find a Matt Woodard, or whoever we let go of, for a defensive position.
So even if we kept eight and played (Brandon) Warner or (Blair) Stayzer up front, Id feel a lot more confident. Those 300 man-games (the Komets lost last year), Ive never been through a year like that injury-wise. I guess its just a wake-up call for what can happen.