FORT WAYNE – They say the playoffs are all about goaltending, so let’s start over here.
Let’s start at the far end of the dressing room, past the flat-screen TVs, past the wail of the music, all the way back here, where the pads have come off and Ben Meisner looks even slighter, and younger, than his 5-foot-11, 175 pounds and 23 years and 10 months.
Don’t be fooled. The kid’s a stone killer, not a guy who looks like he’s late for the prom.
That was him down there in the slender minutes of the second period, the Komets up a goal, the Reading Royals pressing for one of the few times in what was swiftly becoming a long night for them. And here came the Royals’ Yannick Tifu, cycling behind the net and coming out front and going all gunfight-at-high-noon with Meisner.
One of the deadliest guys in the league, Komets coach Gary Graham would say later. Point blank one-on-one with Benny.
He tried beating him high blocker but he just came out, took away the angle, gave him nothing, Graham went on.
And, sure, this was a moment you could have lost in everything else that went right for the Komets in Game 3 of the ECHL Eastern Conference quarterfinals, which was, well, pretty much everything. They put 44 pucks on Meisner’s counterpart, Riley Gill, slipping four behind him and one into an empty net. They controlled center ice. They kept Meisner’s crease clean for the most part, and got traffic in front of Gill at the other end, cold-jumping rebounds and planting them in empty nets when Gill was pulled out of position.
And so, 5-1, Komets, a two-games-to-one lead in the best-of-seven series, the kind of dominant performance that makes you think the defending ECHL champion Royals can be gotten. Especially if the Komets can keep getting what they got between the pipes from the kid at the back of the room, who made 36 mostly acrobatic saves.
The playoffs are about goaltending, remember? And who do you think knows that better than anyone?
Thaaat’s right. Take it away, Mr. Meisner.
It’s that time of year where you push yourself a little bit more, you dig a little deeper, he says. And I’ve always been the kind of goalie that rises to the occasion. So for me, it’s just hockey – the same game preparation, the just-another-game mentality.
Just go out there and make all the saves I should, and maybe some I shouldn’t have along the way. The defense has really stepped it up in front of me, and we’ve been boxing really well, keeping guys to the outside where I can see it.
And let’s face it: There are some nights you see it better than others.
Yeah, there’s got to be, says Meisner, a Halifax, Nova Scotia, native who came to Fort Wayne from Utah the day after Christmas. We’re all human in here, we’re not robots. We can put together a pretty consistent body of work, but some nights you just don’t have it for whatever reason.
Or do, for whatever reason.
I thought Ben was huge, Graham said, on a night when pretty much everyone was.
I’m dialed in, I’m ready to go, Meisner said.
Right on time.