Komets clinch playoff berth with exciting win

A 4-3 victory over the Evansville IceMen clinched a playoff berth for the Komets on April 11, 2014. Check out the highlights.

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Ben Smith

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Trip to postseason no easy journey

– Of course this wouldn’t be easy. Nothing else has been for these Komets, so why should something so humble as a playoff berth be any different?

This long slog began 4 1/2 months ago with a gang that couldn’t shoot straight, and then there were changes and more changes and yet more changes, and slowly something began to come together. And then it was April, and Friday, and spring at last – the season down to two games, the playoffs still not pinned down, an Evansville team allegedly playing out the string in the house.

Naturally, it would be a fight to the death.

Naturally, the Icemen would score once in the first, and then again, and suddenly the Komets were looking up from a 2-0 hole. One thousand miles to the south, their shadow, the Florida Everblades, were beating Reading; if both the Icemen and Everblades held serve, the last playoff spot would still be up for grabs on the last day of the season.

Of course this wouldn’t be easy.

The good news in that: The Komets have gotten comfortable with it not being easy.

And so fast forward a couple of periods, past Mike Embach’s goal 45 seconds into the second period and Scott Fleming’s goal 38 seconds into the third. Past Christian Ouellet’s goal with 8:36 to play. Past a 12-0 flurry of shots to open the third period, … past 43 total shots to Evansville’s 23 … past Ouellet’s goal on the power play with 2:55 to play, the one that sealed the 4-3 win and delivered the playoffs.

“Nice for us to get in on our own,” winger Brandon Marino said. “We waited until the last weekend, and that’s tough. But we got the win.”

Across the room, defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin was saying pretty much the same thing.

“We knew a couple of games back every game now was going to be super important,” he said. “It’s just so nice to get that win tonight out of a hard fought battle like that. Finally the work we’ve put in this season is coming through for us.”

It’s work that carried on through the usual ECHL upheaval – call-ups, send-downs, more call-ups – and some not-so-usual upheaval. All told, 39 non-goalies have seen ice time in orange and black this season, plus a club-record nine goalies. And of their 35 wins, 16 have been by one goal.

Lots of scratching and clawing for purpose in all of that. So why not more of it Friday?

“We’ve been in so many one-goal games this year,” Danis-Pepin said. “It’s going to be huge going into the playoffs knowing we have experience playing in one-goal games and hard-fought games.”

Back across the room, it was Marino saying the same thing this time.

“Better to be winning those games now,” he said.

Sure it’s better. Everything’s better now, obviously. Even the struggles – all the changes, all the stuff that went on before this team found its footing – seems, at least now, like nothing more than a necessary trial to make Friday night feel even more like a reward than it otherwise would have.

“I think if you look at this whole season, this long journey; … there were a lot of things happened this year that we dealt with,” Komets coach Gary Graham said when it was done Friday. “We had some ups and downs that everybody had to deal with in the organization. And you know, we made the most out of it.

“The guys that have come into the locker room have done everything we could possible ask. The new players that have come in, they buy in right away, they’re good teammates. We’ve got a good locker room – and that’s the more important thing.”

Well. One of them, anyway.

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.