By their own admission, the Komets underestimated the caliber of play in the CHL, and they overestimated the talent they had at the beginning of the season.
That they wound up struggling so much is, therefore, not surprising. They lost 16 of their first 21 games and wound up 31-27-8 to take the sixth seed in the Turner Conference.
The lineup today, when the Komets open their first-round best-of-five series against the Bloomington PrairieThunder (37-22-7), is much different than it was when the season opened Oct. 16.
Gone are Brandon Naurato, Keith Rodger and Olivier Legault. Present are Colin Chaulk, Tab Lardner and Michael Ratchuk.
But something that never changed with the Komets, from the planning phase until today, was that they expect their bevy of playoff experience to pay off.
I think that will be key for our team, to rely on that experience, general manager David Franke said. That’s why Guy Dupuis is here, and Colin Chaulk, P.C. Drouin and Tab Lardner, those guys. They shine in the postseason. We’re hoping that our up-and-down season will be more of an up for the playoffs.
One of the reasons we have an older team is to help us in the playoffs. The nerves calm down and the jitters are taken away. It’s worked for us in the past. Will it work this season? I don’t know.
The Komets won the last three championships of the IHL, even recovering from a 3-1 deficit against the Port Huron Icehawks in the 2008 finals and the 2010 semifinals. The IHL was smaller with only six or seven teams, compared with the 18 of the CHL, but the Komets prided themselves in the IHL on never getting rattled despite the circumstances.
In the past, our experience benefited us this time of year, goaltender Nick Boucher said. The guys have been there through all the battles kind of know what it takes. The adversity, there are so many ups and downs in the playoffs, and you have to know not to get too down or get too high.
The Komets have four players who were a part of the three IHL championships: Boucher, Chaulk, Drouin and Dupuis, plus coach Al Sims.
Mathieu Curadeau, Sean O’Connor and Leo Thomas won two IHL titles with Fort Wayne. And Frankie DeAngelis, Bobby Phillips, Kevin Reiter and Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock all have won championship rings.
Some of these players – Curadeau, Drouin and Dupuis – have had a statistically disappointing season and are hoping to turn it around in the playoffs.
The guys who have been here for years and years, they seem to have another year once the playoffs come and we want the same guys who have been there to do it again in the postseason, Boucher said. We’re going to need them to step up, obviously.
The PrairieThunder, which is in its fifth season, has never been in the playoffs before. That would seem to give the experience advantage to Fort Wayne. However, as Franke pointed out, the Komets have probably played more games over the last four years than any other team at the AA level and fatigue has caught up with them.
The Komets went 3-7-0 against the PrairieThunder in the regular season.
I really hope our experience is going to pay dividends, said Lardner, who played for Port Huron in the 2008 playoffs. We’ve got a lot of guys who have been here before and won before. It’s going to be a new season, and it’s going to be a battle.