By the time Fort Wayne forward Tom Mele decided to reach inside for the type of effort that determines whether he'd wear a championship ring or lament what could've been, the Komets had already decided that the 2012 CHL championship would belong to them.
But that is what made Mele's play so stupendous. He didn't have to do what no one watching even fathomed that he would, he just did it because that is what championship hockey requires.
“It's the playoffs,” Mele said. “Got to lay a body on the line.”
Or on the ice, in Mele's case.
Fort Wayne made a number of impressive plays en route to building a 5-2 lead early in the second period over Wichita in Game 5 of the Presidents' Cup Finals on Monday. The usual players made their mark as the Komets skated circles around the Thunder.
Fort Wayne captain Colin Chaulk redirected a shot for a goal; hometown hero Kaleigh Schrock scooped up a loose puck from a battle involving teammate J.M. Rizk and buried it behind Wichita goalie Bryan Hogan; and Bobby Chaumont, the Komets' regular-season points leader, broke out of his CHL Playoffs semi-slump with a first-period goal. However, following Mele's masterpiece, every one of the 9,560 fans at Memorial Coliseum – as well as the Komets players and coaches – was going gaga over Mele.
“It was the play of the game if you ask me,” Schrock said.
Just over six minutes into the period, Chaulk lost a faceoff in the Thunder zone. Mele then threw his body in front of a Wichita shot, and when he saw the rebound bouncing into the neutral zone, he took off after it.
Mele was skating stride-for-stride with a Thunder defenseman, and it was anybody's guess who would reach the errant puck.
Mele decided to take the guesswork out of the play.
As the puck scooted over the blue line, Mele dove head first toward the puck, not only to keep it away from the Wichita player, but also because he had even more plans in mind for the puck.
“The (defenseman) came over and I actually thought he was going to pivot and let me pick up the puck and play the 2-on-1,” Mele said. “He came by and I had to make something happen.”
That is an understatement.
Mele saw Chaumont speeding up the middle, and though he was horizontal to the ice as he flew toward the puck, Mele reached out one-handed and knocked the puck with his stick to Chaumont, who shot it past Hogan for a 6-2 advantage.
“We talked about Tommy between the second and third periods as a shining example of what this team does,” Komet coach Al Sims said. “It was a pure-effort play. That's what it takes.”
If ever there was a misleading statistic, Mele's registering a zero in the plus/minus category entering Monday's game might be it.
“For Tom to bail me out after losing the faceoff,” Chaulk explained, “he blocked the shot, won the race and chipped the puck over to Chaumont. The funny thing about this team is that we won with our depth. We won with everybody playing a part. That's just a great feeling.”