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Ben Smith

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Quiet Sims deserves shout-out

Sims

Maybe now they’ll crank up the volume. How much louder, after all, can the man himself shout?

Oh, Al Sims won’t do it out loud, because it’s not his style, but his résumé will make noise enough. Saturday night was the third straight time he’s lifted the Turner Cup and posed for pictures with it. It’s the fourth time overall he’s done it here – the first time coming in 1993, when he was younger and still had his hair and had yet to go to the NHL, where all his dreams turned sour.

Took over a fatally divided San Jose team, Sims did, after two seasons’ apprenticeship with Ron Wilson in Anaheim. He lasted 82 games, going 27-47-8, before being fired.

After that there was a little bit of Reading, Pa., and some Corpus Christi and Fort Worth, Texas, and then some Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and Flint, Mich. Finally, in 2007, he came back to Fort Wayne. He’s won three Turner Cups since.

And yet … come game nights, when the starting lineup goes up on the Memorial Coliseum scoreboard, Sims invariably draws the most reserved response. It’s hard to say why, considering he’s been behind the bench for half of the league titles the Komets have won in 58 seasons. All you can do is venture a guess.

Here’s one: The response is reserved because the man himself is, at least publicly.

We rarely get the side of him we saw Saturday night, when his wife and kids came onto the ice during the postgame celebration and his face lit up in a way not often seen by those of us who know only the public Sims.

Truth is, he’s no glad-hander, and there’s something to be said for that. Cordial with the media – much more so, I can honestly say, than he was the last time he was here – he doesn’t openly court it.

And there’s something to be said for that, too.

After all, the man’s here to win hockey games. Winning public adoration is optional.

“As exciting as it was in 1993 or ’94, whenever I first won one … to come back here and win three more, it’s incredible,” he said Saturday night. “I think if you look at it around the league, it’s very difficult. There’s been some dynasties, but when you’re changing as many players as we do every year, it’s a real credit to these guys here.”

Some of whom, no doubt, have wanted to kill him at times, because that’s the fate of any coach who sticks around long enough.

Sooner or later he’s going to make a decision that gets him crosswise with someone. It comes, as they say, with the territory.

“Yeah, I think you can’t be fearful of making tough decisions,” Sims said. “If you are, you’re not gonna win anything I don’t think.”

Some of those decisions have been, shall we say, unconventional.

The biggest came in Game 4 of the finals, when Sims sat Nick Boucher, the man who’d won two Turner Cups for the Komets and had given up just three goals in the first two games of the finals, and went with Tim Haun.

It wasn’t much of a gamble, considering Haun was the goaltender of the year in the IHL during the regular season.

And while Boucher couldn’t be faulted for any of the seven pucks that got behind him in the 7-6 loss in Game 3, Sims sensed there was something about Perani Arena that didn’t agree with him.

“He just doesn’t have good karma here, whatever you want to call it,” he said.

And so in went Haun, who hadn’t played in three weeks.

And to the verge of extinction went Flint, which got just two pucks past him in a 6-2 Komets win.

Score another one for the reserved guy with all the hardware.

“I think sometimes you’ve got to make unpopular decisions and tough decisions that you believe in with your gut and your heart,” Sims said.

“I certainly believed Tim Haun could win a game in Flint for us.”

He did. They did. Now give the man a hand.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by e-mail at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648 or at the “Ben Smith” topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net.

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