Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Komets right wing Shawn Szydlowski, the ECHL MVP, has been impressed at the sacrifices his teammates have made during this postseason.
Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Walleye goalie Pat Nagle blocks a shot made by Komets forward Justin MacDonald in the first period of Game 6 of the Central Division finals at Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday.
Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Komets forward Justin MacDonald chases down the puck in the second period of Game 6 of the Central Division finals against Toledo at Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday.
Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Komets left wing Garrett Thompson, left celebrates with his teammate Shawn Szydlowski after he hits an empty net goal in the third period of Game 6 of the playoffs against Toledo at Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday.
Friday, May 11, 2018 1:00 am
K's put it all on line
Have sacrificed their bodies to fight way to Western finals
JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette
Who: Komets vs. Colorado
What: Western Conference finals
Game 1: 9 p.m. Saturday at Colorado
Game 2: 9 p.m. Sunday at Colorado
Game 3: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Memorial Coliseum
Game 4: 8 p.m. May 18 at Memorial Coliseum
Game 5: 7:30 p.m. May 19 at Memorial Coliseum*
Game 6: 9 p.m. May 22 at Colorado*
Game 7: 9 p.m. May 23 at Colorado*
To illustrate the identity the Komets have developed in these playoffs, “the amount of heart in this locker room” as he put it, Shawn Szydlowski said one need only look at what teammate Marco Roy did in Tuesday's 4-2 series-clinching victory over the rival Toledo Walleye.
“He's banged up all over the place,” Szydlowski said. “You can see him and he probably blocked four or five shots and, after the game, he had ice packs all over his body.”
It's well-established hockey protocol to not get too detailed about injuries in the playoffs, so we don't know exactly what the Komets' players are going through injury-wise and who's going through it, other than Justin Hodgman being out with a concussion. But this is the team that could barely field a lineup late in the season and never had time to fully recover.
Through the 4-1 series victory over the Cincinnati Cyclones and the 4-2 series victory over the Walleye, the identity became the Komets' ability to grit out victories despite injuries, not having Trevor Cheek or Zac Larraza, who are with Tucson of the higher-level American Hockey League, and having to play an ugly brand of hockey against teams that might be more skilled.
“Multiple guys have (sacrificed) and are playing through injuries, just giving everything they have. It's a victory in that – even if we lose – just to watch that,” said Szydlowski, the ECHL's MVP and leading scorer during the regular season, whose Komets open the best-of-7 Western Conference finals against the reigning-champion Colorado Eagles at 9 p.m. Saturday in Loveland, Colorado.
“If you watch the NHL playoffs or anything like that, the best players on the ice are blocking shots,” Szydlowski said. “They'll block shots with their faces if they have to. That's the type of stuff you have to do to win championships. It doesn't feel good in the moment when you do it, but once the buzzer sounds and your team's up, it's all worth it in the end.”
The Eagles haven't played since completing a sweep of the Idaho Steelheads on May 3, a series that came on the heels of a 4-2 victory over the Wichita Thunder.
Part of the Komets' ability to succeed in the playoffs has been the contributions of rookies added late in the season – Phelix Martineau, Anthony Petruzzelli and Kevin McKernan – while veterans such as Justin MacDonald have played pivotal roles in aiding players such as Gabriel Desjardins, who leads the ECHL in playoff scoring with six goals and 15 points.
“We have some college guys who have come in here and are doing well,” Fort Wayne defenseman Curtis Leonard said. “Everyone is pulling the rope, everyone has a common goal here, and I think those guys are playing well. The older guys have confidence in them and they have confidence in us and it's contagious.”
The Eastern Conference finals pits the Florida Everblades vs. the Adirondack Thunder, meaning the Komets are the only remaining team that didn't win its division in the regular season.
“The biggest thing our group has found out is that we have to embrace a certain identity to win in these playoffs,” Komets coach Gary Graham said. “We've continuously had top guys hurt, out, banged up, and it's been a next-man-in approach all season. Guys just keep stepping in.
“I don't think we're necessarily going to out-skill teams, even though we score a fair amount of goals, but I think we need to have that worker's approach of getting to the net.”