FORT WAYNE – If the Komets really need to win a faceoff, then chances are coach Gary Graham will send center Scott Fleming to take it.
Fleming tends to get on hot streaks more than any of the Komets other faceoff specialists, which include Shawn Szydlowski, Kenton Miller and Mickey Lang. But as any Komet taking faceoffs will tell, streaks can run hot or cold.
Sometimes, some games, you cant really do much no matter what you try, Fleming said. You just cant figure it out. Youve just got to tie them up and do the best you can. Its good when youre feeling it, because it feels like you can win every draw.
Faceoffs take place 50 to 60 times per game and last only a matter of seconds, and while the focus is usually only on the two players vying for control of the puck, its about more than that.
Plays are scripted for everyone, and those plays change depending on which faceoff dot is being used. Every player must react to which direction the puck goes and to where the opposing team goes.
Sometimes the puck goes nowhere and the players taking the draw just tie each other up. And even if a center loses the draw, the faceoff can still be won by his team if his teammates react accordingly.
Its definitely a five-man unit. Even (the goalie) is out there letting us know which one of them is getting ready to take a one-timer (shot). I can win it over to a teammate, but if our defensemen or wingers arent ready, then the other team can get a jump on them and its a wash. So we all have to be going, Fleming said.
Graham, whose team plays host to defending-champion Reading tonight and Saturday, likened a faceoff to the snapping of the ball in football. Except that its more complicated in hockey; in football, at least you know before the ball is snapped whether your team will have possession.
Its definitely a five-man philosophy on faceoffs, and the guys are at what we call the line of scrimmage, and they have to help out, said Graham, noting that the toughest faceoffs can be in the offensive zone because its essentially three on five.
With a football analogy, you are outnumbered at the line of attack. Its important when at the dot there, when its unclear there, that the wingers get in and converge on those loose pucks and help the centerman out.
The Komets have set plays for all sorts of game situations, and those plays have subsets for what happens if the Komets win or lose the draw.
The lost faceoffs are as much about reading the opponent as trying to guess when the puck will come out of the officials hands.
I try to bear down and tie them up or see what hes going to do and try to do my best to react and win them. Its been going good for me this year, Fleming said.
Usually, I see if (my opponent) is a left- or right-handed guy and see if hes trying to win it and what hes going to do and then try to react off that. Then, I need to figure out what Im going to do.
Graham takes note of which players on other teams do well on faceoffs – the ECHL doesnt track its faceoff statistics, but the NHLs best player, Bostons Patrice Bergeron, wins 60 percent – and that knowledge may come in handy when hes looking to add a player to the roster.
But some players get hot, even if they arent known for being that good.
Its something you work on in practice, and its a repetition thing. Some nights there will be guys who are on and some who are off, Graham said.
It might not be the guy who it was the night before. Somebody might have a hot hand and, as a coach, sometimes youre going off of a gut feeling on who can get you that big draw.