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Ben Smith

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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Aaron Clarke, right, and his Komets linemates Mike Embach and Shawn Szydlowski have been key to the team’s postseason success.

Communication has K’s line in top form

– It can’t be so simple. Can it?

It can’t just be what Aaron Clarke says it is, as he clomps off the ice long minutes after everyone but him and a couple of others have departed. It’s Monday morning, practice officially wrapped 20 or so minutes ago, and now it’s just Clarke and an empty arena and a question he and his two linemates, Mike Embach and Shawn Szydlowski, have made utterly pertinent in the playoffs.

Which is: Why are you guys tearing it up out there right now?

“I think a lot of it stems from talk on the ice,” Clarke says.

Just talk? As in, just, I’m going over here and OK, I’ll be over here?

Sort of.

“You have to talk to each other and help each other out,” Clarke goes on. “When you hear your guy’s voice and he tells you where to go and what to do, it makes it a lot easier on the ice.”

And a lot harder on whoever’s trying to stop you, at which neither Reading nor Cincinnati has had a lot of luck. The Komets come back to Fort Wayne tonight 1-1 with the Cyclones in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and the Szydlowski-Embach-Clarke line is at least a piece of why. You need a hot goaltender to keep winning four out of seven in the playoffs, but you also need at least one line to get hot. And the Komets have found theirs.

So far, the SEC Line has generated nine goals and 18 points in six playoff games, and they were present and accounted for in Cincy last weekend. Embach scored a goal in the Komets’ 2-1 win in Game 1; Szydlowski scored one in the 5-2 loss in Game 2. Among the three of them, they generated seven shots in Game 1 and seven in Game 2.

All from just talking. And, OK, a little doing, too.

“I think they’re all just willing to play a grind type of game,” Komets coach Gary Graham says. “They can play off the rush, they can play on the cycle, they can play along the walls. (Whatever) a given team is trying to take away from them, they’re adaptable.

“That’s the No. 1 thing. They’re flexible. No matter what a team’s doing, they seem to have an answer, and that comes mostly from working hard and taking care of the puck.”

And, yes, communicating, which has led to everything else. Clarke will tell you that what they’re doing technically is getting pressure up ice, putting pucks deep and finishing checks in the offensive end. And, yeah, none of that’s magic, either, or quantum physics, or rocket science.

It’s just what works.

“Those two guys (Embach and Szydlowski) are pretty skilled players,” says Clarke, who has three goals in the playoffs so far, including the series winner in double overtime against Reading. “I consider myself a hard worker who gets rewarded; I don’t consider myself a skill guy per se. But, yeah, we all have skills and we all have talents, and I just think it’s a matter of using every aspect of your skill and blending in with the other guys.”

And somehow out of all that, a little magic does emerge.

“I think probably just after a couple of games playing together, we kind of had some success, and then the game felt so much easier,” Clarke says. “It usually doesn’t feel that easy, and it felt pretty easy.”

Or simple.

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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