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Ben Smith

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A rare home win for Komets

The Komets defeated the Evansville IceMen 6-3 at Memorial Coliseum on March 13, 2013.

Optimistic Komets still eye berth in postseason

For sure there’s still a chance, as the sleepy building spills its orange-and-black guts into the dregs-of-winter night. There’s always a chance, right? As long as the arithmetic holds out?

And so, yes, the earth could open and swallow Greenville, S.C., whole. Wheeling, W.Va., could slide into the Ohio River. Al Davis could come back to life, buy both the Kalamazoo Wings and Florida Everblades, and, in a standard fit of Al Davis pique, sell both rosters entire to Shrek On Ice.

And the path to the playoffs would be free and clear, suddenly, for these Komets. As opposed to what it is now, which is no path at all, really, unless you’re in the one room where you absolutely have to see one.

“We’ve got one down, but we’ve got nine to go,” Komets coach Al Sims said Wednesday night, doing the math the way they all do the math these days, able to keep looking forward thanks to the dreadful Evansville IceMen, who crumbled obligingly, 6-3.

“Who knows what will happen?” said Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock, IU cap perched atop his dome like some lucky talisman.

Nine games to go and still eight points out of the last playoff spot, with three teams to leapfrog to get there: This is some strange business for a franchise that came into this season having won four titles in the last five years, and which last missed the playoffs 11 years and three leagues ago. Colin Chaulk was playing in a league that no longer exists then. Schrock was still in high school. So was Eric Giosa, who scored twice in Wednesday’s win over an Evansville that left trailing a five-game losing streak.

So, yeah, crank up the music this night, tip that IU cap to Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo and all other patron saints of winning against the odds, and hold out hope like a candle against the darkness. It’s probably not gonna happen, but what kind of professional is ever going to allow that thought inside the walls?

“Every guy in this room right now grew up wanting to be a hockey player,” is how Schrock put it. “I dreamed of it as a little boy. We’re still playing a game we love.

“I think people forget about that, sometimes, when things are bad. The year we’ve had isn’t acceptable, but at the same time we’re still doing what we love and we’re passionate about it. And I don’t think we’re where we’re at right now because of an effort thing.”

No. They’re where they’re at because it’s a new league with new parameters, and because some guys got hurt at the wrong times and other guys got whisked away at the wrong times, and because their scoring touch deserted them when they most needed it not to. And now they’re 4-9-1 in their last 14 games – when’s the last time they limped through a stretch run like that? – and even the most robust fan base in minor-league hockey seems to sense the string is being played out, even if their team doesn’t see it that way.

The Memorial Coliseum lobby was all but deserted Wednesday, 25 minutes before gametime. The arena itself, for long stretches, was as quiet as an opera house. Everything had the feel of ending times, of winter closing its doors and summer coming.

On the elevator prior to the game, instead of the usual logjam of fans, there were only a lonely columnist and a couple of video operators. They were already talking about the postseason jersey sale.

Fast forward three hours to the Komet locker room, and a very different vibe.

“A lot of things haven’t gone our way,” Schrock was saying. “But I think the effort has been there, and we’re just trying to keep it going. Stranger things have happened.”

Sure. Not many, but, OK, sure.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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