FORT WAYNE – The grin on coach Gary Graham’s face these days isn’t just because he’s gotten the Komets back into the playoffs in his first season.
It’s also because this is the time of year he loves.
The things Graham enjoys most about coaching – deciphering the tendencies of players, breaking down film, preparing scouting reports and making sure his players are as prepared as he can get them – are most needed in the playoffs. When the Komets play in Reading, Pa., for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals Thursday, Graham hopes his players will know the Royals almost as well as they know themselves.
This is when I’m most comfortable, to be honest with you, said Graham, whose Komets (36-24-12) are the eighth seed in the conference and will take on the conference-champion Royals (46-22-4), who won the Kelly Cup last season.
Through his time as an assistant coach with Fort Wayne, from 2008 to 2012, Graham got heavily involved in breaking down video of the tendencies of the Komets and their opponents for coach Al Sims, and it helped the team to three championships in the IHL and CHL.
Last season, his first as a head coach in the professional ranks, Graham’s pre-game preparation helped the Pensacola Ice Flyers to the Southern Professional Hockey League championship, which he parlayed into the Komets’ head-coaching gig after Sims missed the playoffs and resigned.
It’s been a tumultuous season – the Komets have made 12 trades and used a franchise-record nine goaltenders – but they have won eight of their last 11 games.
Graham did video work throughout the regular season, but it was normally geared toward fixing the Komets’ own play. Now, it will be more about deciphering the Royals, who have also won eight of 11 games entering the postseason.
We know who we are and what we do. Now it’ll be about being prepared for Reading and what they do, Graham said.
Reading ranks fourth in offense (3.18 goals per game) and in defense (2.53 goals against per game). Fort Wayne ranks 13th in offense (2.99) and 12th in defense (2.99).
We need to be ready, right wing Brandon Marino said. They’re obviously a good team. You don’t win a championship and then win the regular season in your conference by luck. We’ll have to do our homework and be ready against them. It’s not going to be easy, just as nothing has been this year. We’re looking forward to it. We’re happy to be in the playoffs, but we don’t want it to end after one round.
Graham will have his players watch video. Sometimes they’ll be expected to study written reports. Sometimes they’ll have to do both at the same time.
Everything is different. Everything is a lot more detailed, Graham said of his preparation with the players in the postseason. They’ll get individual packets of information with notes, scouting reports, everything. There’s a lot more video in the playoffs – that’s something I do differently – and everything is a lot more individualized because you have to be that way. When you are that way as a coach, it stresses the importance of the details when it starts with me.