When the Komets are winning games, coach Al Sims leaves his forward line combinations alone. When they are losing, he mixes them up often, even in the midst of periods.
Seemingly everyone – players, fans, reporters – has their own ideas of whom Sims should put together.
Sims philosophy when making lines is that he doesnt want too many guys who have the same skill set together.
If he has all goal-scorers together, who will get them the puck? If he has three playmakers, who will shoot? If two guys are very smart, and the third lacks hockey smarts, will the line jell?
It usually starts at practice, Sims said. Well try them through practices and see how everybody looks with each other. If they then play and have a good game, well try to keep them together.
It can be an unenviable task because line combinations are scrutinized by everyone and feelings can be hurt.
A lot of times, especially if were struggling, we dont have the right as players (to suggest combinations), forward Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock said. Thats what the coach gets paid to do, and hes the best at it.
This isnt to say players dont lobby for particularly combinations, as do the fans.
If a coach does everything the fans say, the media says or the players say, then, sometimes (the players) dont work hard, center Colin Chaulk said. So (the coach) pushes back against the players and forces them to do what he says. The other side of the coin is, if a player says, Put me with Schrock and (Keith) Rodger, then theres ownership on that line. If you go to management and say, Were going to get the job done, then its on you now.
Chaulk said its unusual for all three players on a line to click, like he did with Bobby Stewart and David-Alexandre Beauregard in the championship season of 2002-03 and with Jonathan Goodwin and Sean Venedam in 2004-05.
You have to have a good combination of a good shooter, a thumper and a passer. Thats a perfect world, Chaulk said. Most cases, generally speaking, two guys generally work well together and the (third is serviceable).
And it seldom becomes cohesive immediately.
Youve got to work hard for each other, Chaulk said. You cant throw your hands up in the air when somebody makes a mistake. Next time it could be you. Youve got to play together. Thats what (former Komets coach) Greg Puhalski used to preach, Play together, play together.
More than anything, when Sims puts together a line, hes looking for magic to happen. But if a combination isnt exhilarating, it had better be effective as a checking line, a scoring line or a line that always seems to come through in the clutch.
I want to see hockey smarts more than anything else, Sims said. If youve got one guy with that, hes going to make the right play at the right time. You need at least some hockey smarts on a line.
Its been tough to keep track of Sims lines this season, but recent combinations include: Chaulk, Derek Patrosso and Tab Lardner; Danny Lapointe, Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock and Artem Podshendyalov; Mathieu Curadeau, Sean OConnor and P.C. Drouin.
Whatever choices Sims makes, there will be second-guessing.
Ive never been a coach, Chaulk said, but I just try to think about what hes doing. And when youre thinking about what the coach should be doing, its not good for your game. Theyre just trying to find a combination. Theyre looking for something.