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Komets are thriving on better competition

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For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blakesebring and at his blog www.tailingthekomets.com.

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Last year's champions would struggle against this team

Monday, October 22, 2012 - 12:22 pm

Though this Fort Wayne Komets team has only played four games against two teams, here's a pretty dramatic statement to start the season: This team would need about five playoff games to beat last year's Central Hockey League champions.

The super-sized ECHL, which includes about five or six American Hockey League players on each team, is producing some outstanding talent and entertainment so far. The players are bigger, faster and more aggressive and the overall goaltending is much better.

That's not a slam on Nick Boucher, either. He played amazingly well last year considering he was using hips that both needed surgery. History is going to call that one of the most-impressive performances ever by a Komets goaltender in a playoff run.

Here's what we know so far after two weeks of the Komets' first season in the ECHL:

1. Al Sims' systems are just as effective in the ECHL as they were in the IHL and CHL. After a good week of practice, the players showed a much better understanding of what their coach wanted them to do this weekend, and they held Kalamazoo to 25 shots in Wings Stadium against the three-time defending North Division champions.

2. No one should want to mess with Tyler Butler or any of his teammates while he's on the ice. The veteran defenseman has been quick to step up and defense anyone wearing an orange jersey who is the victim of a cheap shot. He's also been playing outstanding defense.

3. Kenny Reiter may be a rookie, but he's an outstanding goaltender. A Fort Wayne netminder hasn't had his lateral quickness since Pokey Reddick in the early 1990s. Reiter never seems to get rattled no matter how much pressure the opponents are putting on him.

4. The Komets need to find more ways to score. This might be partly due to trying to be too fine with their chances. Against Kalamazoo on Friday night, the Komets blasted 35 shots on long-time Fort Wayne nemesis Joel Martin, but they missed the net with another 12-to-15 shots that could have made a difference. They had similar chances Saturday against Evansville. The goaltending in the league it too good to waste any chances.

5. There's also a lot less room on the ice to operate. The players are bigger, faster and quicker to lay the body around, meaning players can't dangle with the puck. There's also more pressure when trying to maneuver around and behind the net. New strategies will have to be tried.

6. It's also much harder to get to rebounds at both ends of the ice because the defensemen are all bigger. It's not that the Komets have been unwilling to go toward the front of the net, they just don't always get there, and sometimes neither does the puck. Forwards are showing the willingness to consistently block shots from getting anywhere near the net.

7. The Komets looked much more comfortable in Saturday's shootout win over Evansville than they did in Friday's loss at Kalamazoo. Everyone rushes in and fires, seeming to lack a gameplan on how to attack the goaltender. Relax, guys. There's no time limit.

8. Everyone is competing for playing time on every shift. With three hungry players sitting on the reserve list hoping for a chance to play, the active players need to perform every night to keep their spot in the lineup. That means there are no exceptions when it comes to busting it to get back on defense or playing the body, and it's been evident even at the end of shifts.

9. The power play will continually need adjustments like the ones the team made between Friday and Saturday's games. Center Colin Chaulk is doing his best to do what's right for the team by playing the point, but that often means someone else better be prepared with a lack of conscious when it comes to taking shots. Sometimes it's a struggle to find open lanes to launch from.

10. The Komets had their deepest and most-competitive training camp in a decade, and all they got out of it was two players -- Matt Firman and Scott Kishel -- who are currently waiting on the reserve list. The rookies can play, as could about six others who were released from the camp, but that shows how much impact the NHL lockout has had. Some of those kids could be back if the lockout ever ends.

Some Fort Wayne fans might start to hope it doesn't.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Blake Sebring at bsebring@news-sentinel.com .