Only four weeks ago, the Komets had a glut of defensemen and not nearly enough forwards. Last weekend, things had totally flipped. The craziest of ECHL seasons just keeps getting wackier.
“Everybody's been finding ways to do what they can to contribute,” coach Ben Boudreau said after a 3-2 overtime loss to the division-leading Toledo Walleye on Sunday in Toledo. “To get three of four (possible) points, on back-to-back nights, against the first-place team, that's impressive and that's a tall task to do with the numbers we've got right now. As a coach, you have to just sit back and appreciate what these guys are doing throughout the organization.”
A typical lineup in the ECHL includes 10 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies. The Komets (17-9-4) began Sunday's game with 11 forwards and five defensemen, with matters made worse when blue-liner Chays Ruddy suffered an injury in a fight early in the second period, though forward Kellen Jones played defense much of the game.
It was quite a flip from mid-December, when the Komets were forced to use seven forwards and nine defensemen for a spell.
Much of the roster upheaval can be blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused mass call-ups to the American Hockey League and put other ECHL players in safety protocols, though injuries and luck have certainly played a part.
On Sunday, the Komets were without defenseman D.J. King (broken leg), defenseman Josh Owings (shoulder), forward Matthew Barnaby (ankle/head) and defenseman/forward Will Graber, who's served half of his four-game suspension for making physical contact with an official after Friday's 5-4 loss to the Cincinnati Cyclones.
The Komets, four points behind the Walleye for the division lead, have a multitude of players in the AHL: forwards Matthew Boudens (with Henderson) and Drake Rymsha (Hershey), defenseman Blake Siebenaler (Charlotte), and goalie Samuel Harvey (San Jose). Then there are those who had been here on NHL or AHL contracts, but were called back: defenseman Connor Corcoran (Henderson) and goalie Jiri Patera (Henderson).
It's made it difficult for the Komets to generate consistency, and it hasn't been easy on the players going back and forth, either. Forward Stephen Harper, who was the playoff MVP last season, signed with the AHL's Chicago Wolves in the offseason, and he's been assigned to the Komets four times this season.
“It's definitely something I haven't done before and it's not ideal, but you try to do the best with the cards you're dealt,” said Harper, who has eight goals and 18 points in 14 games for Fort Wayne, and is scoreless in six games for Chicago. “I try to show up and do my job every day, and control what I can control, and we'll see what happens. You've just got to keep rolling with the punches.”
The Komets got back defenseman Marcus McIvor from Chicago on Tuesday and they signed defensemen Darien Kielb, a rookie from Dalhousie University, and Brian Etter. The Komets released blue-liner Ryan Devine.
Good goaltending can make up for a lot of issues, and the Komets have been searching for competent replacements for Harvey and Patera. They may have found it in Liam Hughes, who went 1-0-1 against the Walleye with a 1.96 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage in his first two games out of the University of Manitoba.
“It's given us a lot of confidence,” said forward Shawn Szydlowski, whose Komets have used eight goalies in 30 games this season. “Obviously, we were struggling in the net there for a bit, so to have a guy back there who has confidence and is stopping pucks and handling the rebounds, he's just got a quiet confidence about him, too, that the team can just feed off of.”
The jury is still out on the Komets' other rookie goalie, Mario Culina, who stopped 16 of 21 shots Friday in his first game out of Brock University. He and Hughes will get plenty of chances this week with four games in five nights, starting at 7 p.m. today against the Kalamazoo Wings (16-12-0) in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
at Kalamazoo Wings
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Wings Event Center, Kalamazoo, Mich.
Radio: 1190 AM, 107.5 FM