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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, May 30, 2019 12:31 pm

Pressure on Boudreau to win with K's -- immense

Justin A. Cohn | The Journal Gazette

Fans of the Komets can be difficult to please. That comes with the territory for a team that has won so much -- nine championships during their 67 seasons, four in the last 12 and playoff berths in 16 of their last 17 seasons -- and it's been reemphasized this year.

Even though the Komets were still a playoff team that took the Toledo Walleye to six games this season, fans clamored along the way for coach Gary Graham to be fired and replaced by assistant Ben Boudreau. With Boudreau ascending to the job today in the wake of Graham's May 13 firing, some of the same fans are no doubt dissatisfied with Boudreau's lack of experience; he's the first hire without head-coaching experience since Al Sims in 1989, the season before the Franke family took over ownership of the team.

Sometimes you just cannot win.

And if Boudreau doesn't win -- I mean a lot -- then the cacophony of boos that will rain down at Memorial Coliseum might be unparalleled even for this town.

I have no problems with the Komets choosing to hire Boudreau. It's not necessarily the way I would have gone, not when there were a bevy of proven coaches like, say, Richard Matvichuk available.

But it's still a good hire.

I'm on record that if Aaron Schneekloth, who coached the Colorado Eagles to the 2017 and 2018 Cups, were interested, then it would be a no-brainer. But his interest level remains unknown publicly. My second choice would have been Colin Chaulk, the former captain of the Komets, but his divorce from the team was ugly and a reunion always was unlikely. Both would have been successful here, I believe, and were about the only two choices that would have been universally loved at the Coliseum.

Boudreau is a venture into the unknown. If nothing else, that's exciting. And given the events of this off-season, the Frankes should be commended at least for their bravery.

The safest course would have been to stick with Graham, who was 251-130-51 in the regular season and never missed the playoffs. The next safest route would have been to bring in someone who has a résumé beefier than Boudreau's.

The Frankes are gambling that young and hungry trumps everything else. They're gambling that they've got the next John Snowden, who was a four-year assistant coach in the ECHL until he took over the Newfoundland Growlers early this season after Ryane Clowe stepped aside for medical reasons; Snowden now has Newfoundland two victories from the Kelly Cup.

Or maybe Boudreau is more akin to Ron Ullyot who, as the son of legendary Komets coach Ken Ullyot, took the Komets to the playoffs in all his seasons behind the bench (1981 to 1985). Boudreau's father, Bruce, is a former player and coach with the Komets, a Coach of the Year winner in the NHL, currently the Minnesota Wild's bench boss and one of the more entertaining figures in the NHL.

It's true that the players of last season's team endorsed Boudreau being elevated. But take that with a grain of salt; the assistant coach always seems like the nice guy compared to the head coach.

Boudreau's knowledge of Xs and Os, his skill at leading a team throughout a season and, perhaps most importantly, his ability to recruit talent to Fort Wayne -- those are unknowns.

One must assume that Boudreau absorbed knowledge from his father, along with other successful coaches under whom he's worked, such as Robbie Ftorek, Eric Veilleux and Graham, all of whom having hoisted Cups at various levels.

Meanwhile, more proven coaches at this level almost always come with baggage that wouldn't fly in Fort Wayne. A my-way-only of doing things, from recruiting to coaching to community work, may be OK in other markets, but not necessarily here, where ownership is involved in every part of the operation, media coverage is particularly high and fans demand certain styles of play and familiar players on the roster.

In short, a Komets coach has to work well with others, understand the high expectations and be able to handle the pressure cooker the Coliseum can be, one that can't be replicated at too many other places.

What earned Boudreau the job, despite his lack of experience and being a part of the topsy-turvy 2018-19 season, was that he interviewed particularly well. He showed off both his hockey knowledge and enthusiasm with presentations that highlighted how he would put together next season's team.

Any fears the Frankes had about Boudreau's lack of experience were allayed.

The fans, though, won't be swayed by anything other than winning big. Graham made it to two conference finals, and anything less than Fort Wayne being in competition for a Cup next season will have them looking back at today critically.

Justin A. Cohn, senior writer for The Journal Gazette, has covered Fort Wayne sports since 1997. He can be reached by email at jcohn@jg.net or phone at 260-461-8429. You can also follow him on Twitter@sportsicohn.