Even if defenseman Brent Henley wasnt getting back into the lineup, the Komets would have reason for confidence heading into todays Game 3 of the Turner Conference semifinals.
They split the first two games at Rapid City, S.D., and now have three in a row at Memorial Coliseum.
But Henley is getting back and thats a boon for the Komets.
Henley had three goals, 14 points and the top plus/minus rating in the CHL at plus-29 during the regular season. Hes been the Komets most consistent defensive presence, likely has averaged more ice time than any other Fort Wayne player and hes physical.
And hitting is the one area in which the Rush dominated Fort Wayne in the first two games.
You cant say enough about him, Fort Wayne coach Al Sims said. His presence is huge for us.
Literally, because at 6-foot-7, 250 pounds, Henley is the biggest player in the series.
Height- and weight-wise, theyre a bigger team, Sims said. But were a faster team. And when Henley gets back in the lineup, that will help even things up a little bit.
Henley had to serve a three-game suspension for punching Damien Surma and kneeing Brett Lutes in a game at Dayton on March 24. Because of that, the Komets had only 17 players, one short of a full lineup, and rotated only five defensemen.
The Komets lost 6-3 in Game 1 but won 3-1 on Saturday, thanks to a controversial Colin Chaulk goal that may have gone in off his hand.
The Rush is cognizant of Henleys value – he split Fort Waynes award for best defenseman with Frankie DeAngelis, who was on the all-league team – but Rapid City doesnt think its going to shift the entire series.
In fact, the Rush is hoping Henleys return will alter the Komets tempo.
The thing Ill give Brent credit for is hes good defensively. People dont give him credit for it, but hes plus-29, Rush coach Joe Ferras said. You obviously never want a player out of the lineup, but those five (defensemen) played pretty good for them and you can get in a rhythm.
Obviously, Fort Wayne will use it (as motivation) that theyre going to get the top plus/minus guy in the league back, a big physical guy, but it really doesnt matter. At this level and this stage, it doesnt matter whos in the lineup. You have to get the job done.
Rapid City has averaged 32 shots in the series to Fort Waynes 26, so the Komets hope the Rushs scoring opportunities will lessen with Henley on the ice.
Obviously, he brings a physical presence, and hes a veteran guy who has a calming presence back there on the defensive corps, said Fort Wayne goalie Nick Boucher, who has stopped 57 of 63 shots, including a pivotal Game 2 penalty shot on Jesse Schultz, the series leading scorer with three goals and five points.
The biggest thing (about Henley) is were getting another body back. Weve been rotating five guys, and you could tell in the third period (Saturday) we were pretty gassed; and it was getting difficult for them, especially if one was in the (penalty) box.
Notes: The Komets added two amateurs – forward Derek Roehl and defenseman Daniel Maggio – to their playoff roster who are eligible to compete immediately but do not count against the 19-man roster limit, per CHL rules.
Roehl, 23, recently completed his season with Western Michigan with 10 goals and 15 points in 40 games.
Maggio, 21, was with Oshawa of the Ontario Hockey League, scoring seven goals and 19 points on 66 games.
He was the New York Rangers sixth-round pick in 2009.