Komets make history, oust defeding champs in double overtime

Aaron Clarke's goal in double overtime at Memorial Coliseum gave the Komets a 2-1 victory over the defending-champion Reading Royals and moved them to the Eastern Conference Semifinals with a 4-1 series victory. The Komets are the first eight seed in ECHL history to beat a one seed in a best-of-seven series. Check out the highlights, and there are lots, including the Mike Embach hit that drew a late game misconduct.

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Ben Smith

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K’s get alchemy of chemistry right

Well, now. There was a door you didn’t want to leave ajar.

Who’s all for a Game 6 back in Reading against the defending ECHL champions? Anyone? Show of hands?

Didn’t think so.

Didn’t think the Komets wanted to take their boot off the Royals’ throats, now that they had them down 3-1 and one good shove from being gone. Didn’t think, with the Royals looking bumfuzzled – outskated, beaten to loose pucks everywhere, unable to muck things up and force their banger’s game on the faster Komets – that the Komets would want to give them a ray of light to see their way clear.

And so here came Game 5, Dean Ouellet planting a backhand early on the prettiest 2-on-1 you’ll ever see, Reading tying it on a ricochet in front that got past Ben Meisner’s firmly locked door. And then the end of the regulation. And then 20 minutes of overtime. And then almost seven minutes of a second overtime, the night growing late, both teams getting uncommonly stubborn about things.

In the end, it was the Komets who were the more stubborn.

In the end, the other Ouellet, Christian, outfought his man for the puck and centered it to Aaron Clarke barging up the slot, and Clarke planted it behind Brandon Anderson in the Reading goal. And the door slammed shut on the Royals for keeps.

Komets 2, Reading 1. Komets in five games – an eight seed taking down a one seed for the first time in a best-of-seven in ECHL history.

And, sure, you can lay a lot of that at the door of Meisner, who gave up three goals in 111 shots in the last three games against a team that scored 229 goals in the regular season. But for the rest of it, you have to come off the ice and down the short hallway and make a hard left into the Komets dressing room, where so much was not always all warm and fuzzy this season but now is.

Chemistry has always been a major sell for this organization, because they’ve seen how critical a component it’s been on the way to five championships in the last 11 years. It has, in fact, been such a major sell it’s veered perilously close to cliché on occasion.

But you know what?

You put a team on the ice in a second overtime in a close-out game against the defending champs, it either reveals or exposes a few things. And one of those things is, yes, team chemistry.

“The group has come together, and that’s why we’ve got what we’ve got here,” Gary Graham said Sunday night, when the thing was finally done. “We’ve got a good locker room – a locker room (where) they’re at ease with one another, a locker room that scratches and claws together, a group that goes out and hangs out together off the ice.

“That’s what you need if you want to do something special. And that’s what we’re doing.”

So it would seem, one series in.

“It’s just a lot of hard work,” defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin said. “Every single game we won in the playoffs we worked our bags off. … Honestly, I’ve been on a lot of teams in my life, and it’s just great to be part of a team where everyone just loves each other. We’re together all the time, and right now, it can’t be a better time to just come together and play as a team and really believe in each other.

“That’s what playoff hockey is all about.”

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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