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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Forward Sean O’Connor, right, had 51 points in the regular season and 14 points in the playoffs.

Youngsters grew up fast

Gave veterans playoff support


Strategic annoyance. Now there’s a weapon to add to the arsenal, kid.

Less than six minutes to play in Game 5 of the Turner Cup Finals, the Komets clinging to a 3-2 lead that was once a sturdy 3-0 but now feels as shaky as a strand of rope across a lava pit, and Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock is pelting madly down the ice, trying to beat one of those pesky Flint Generals to the puck behind the Flint net.

He gets there. John Ronan of the Generals gets there. They battle for the puck along the boards, Schrock going at him like a dog on a bone … and finally Ronan gets fed up with this kid who won’t quit annoying him and lets him have it.

Boom. Two minutes for high-sticking, a minute after Jake Pence’s goal had narrowed it to 3-2. The Generals’ momentum is blunted; the Komets get a power play that amounts to breathing room that leads, six minutes later, to a third straight Turner Cup.

Just one example of how much the exuberance of youth complemented and lifted this exceedingly veteran team.

“You know, Colin Chaulk said before the playoffs, in order to win our rookies have to play like veterans and our vets have to take it to a new level,” Schrock said Saturday night before heading off to hoist the Cup. “And I think we can say we did that.”

The evidence, anecdotal and otherwise, supports him abundantly.

Up front, there was Schrock, the homegrown rookie, who scored 20 goals and 31 points during the regular season and was a plus-2 in the playoffs. There was Sean O’Connor, the swift second-year pro out of Brownstown, Mich., who scored 23 goals and 51 points and was a plus-18, then added five goals and 14 points in the playoffs.

And on the back line?

Take your pick from among Frankie DeAngelis, Danko Mironovic, Brandon Warner, Bobby Phillips or Keith Rodger, none of whom had more than three years’ pro experience – DeAngelis and Phillips were rookies – and none of whom, except for Rodger, was lower than a plus-12.

Guy Dupuis and Kevin Bertram might have been the veterans on the blue line. But without the kids, the Komets don’t do what they did, which is give up an astounding 35 fewer goals than any other team in the league.

“I think we’ve had great success with young defensemen the last couple of years with Frankie DeAngelis and Warner, Danko, Phillips, Rodger,” Komets coach Al Sims said. “And then you look at O’Connor up front, Kaleigh Schrock. … They’ve just come here, and by the playoff time they’re playing like vets.”

Part of that is simply what happens naturally to a young pro across a long and grueling season. And part of it you can lay at the feet of Dupuis, Bertram, Chaulk and P.C. Drouin, the vets who’d been around every block and drove the culture of the locker room as the faces of the franchise.

“When you’ve got that core group of veteran guys, and you see the character they have, it’s easy to follow their lead,” said O’Connor, who began the year with Kalamazoo of the ECHL and finished it the same way he did last year, by bench-pressing the Cup. “This organization, with the group of guys we have, you don’t look only to the older guys to step up and take charge. Everyone has to do their own part; everyone has to accept their own role.

“This organization is willing to do that, do whatever it takes to win games. I think that’s a really rare thing to find in sports, and fortunately here we’re ready to do that and ready to do anything to win.”

Score, defend or just annoy.