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Ben Smith

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Comfortable lead not comforting

– I dusted the thing thoroughly, Officer. You won’t find these guys’ fingerprints on the Ray Miron Presidents’ Cup anywhere.

No, these guys, these Fort Wayne Komets … why, they’re spending too much time thinking their goose is cooked to count any chickens just yet. Yeah, they’re up two-zip in the finals, and now Wichita has to come to Orange Hell for the next three games. Doesn’t mean anyone’s laying hands on the Cup, even in their heads.

“Is it possible Wichita could come back? Absolutely,” declares Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock, fogged-over faceguard shoved up on his head on this 80-something day.

“It’s not the first to two, it’s the first to four,” goaltender Nick Boucher cautions.

Pretty soon coach Al Sims skates over, bearing yet another warning.

“We know what they’re going to bring,” he says. “Because we brought it to Missouri.”

And there’s the crux of it, as we come to Game 3: They do know what Wichita will bring tonight. And they know they’re far more comfortable with it than they are with being, well, comfortable.

Some teams love the feel of their boot on someone’s throat. The Komets are that other team.

“Yeah, it’s been like that all year,” captain Colin Chaulk says. “When this team gets comfortable, when this team gets overconfident, we’re just casual. You do anything in life too casual, you’re not going to be successful.”

Sims agrees.

“I think doing things the hard way is the motto for our hockey team,” he says. “For once, we’d like to do things the easy way.”

A dry chuckle.

“Maybe give the coach a few more hairs on his bald head.”

It’s a pleasant thought and maybe it will come true, but then again, maybe not. A major psych job will be required this time to convince themselves they’re in trouble, after all, and they or may not be able to pull it off.

The cold truth is, it’s almost impossible to replicate the feel of the wall between your shoulder blades unless your shoulder blades are actually pressed against the wall. And with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series and three straight at home in their pocket, that’s not the case.

But at least they recognize that. At least they get that prosperity is, for them, something more to be feared than embraced.

Chaulk, for instance, leans against the wall in an empty Memorial Coliseum corridor and plucks a memory from December, when the Komets steamed into last-place Bloomington trailing a six-game winning streak and lost 3-1.

Boucher points to defenseman Jamie Lovell, who was on the sour end of a couple of 3-1 leads that vanished when he played for Port Huron. And Schrock reminds everyone of Game 5 against Missouri, when the Komets, having dug themselves out of a hole, promptly tumbled back into it.

“We won two out there and got it back home, and then we laid a big egg (in Game 5),” Schrock says. “I think that’s been our weakness throughout the playoffs. But I think champions have to learn from their mistakes and they have to learn quickly.”

And the lesson here, with two W’s in the bank and two still to go?

“We need to play as if it’s our last game,” Chaulk says.

Or as if prosperity, for once, had their back.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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