Though they've been unable to play because of severe injuries, goaltender Nick Boucher and winger Chris Auger have transitioned into being trained observers of their teammates. The ``eyes in the sky'' watch each game from the press box, and they watch it differently than almost everybody else in the building.
In some ways, they've become support staff for the Komets and coach Al Sims. They are ``expert'' fans with great resumes as Boucher has won four championships, and Auger was the leading goal scorer on last year's title team.
``Al has me in the first period looking at the other team's tendencies, if they are doing anything different on a given night,'' Boucher said. ``Most of the systems with the teams we play against, Al knows them pretty well. We've played them often enough and they've done enough pre-scouting to know what to expect, but every team makes adjustments.''
Boucher focuses on the opponents' penalty kill, power play and forecheck while also looking for a backdoor offensive play the defense may need to be aware of. He's also an expert at watching for goaltender tendencies.
``I'm watching mostly the opponent, but in our D-zone I'll be watching our team to see if we aren't getting into guys defensively, if we're shadowboxing or turning the puck over,'' Boucher said. ``As far as the offensive zone, I kind of watch the game as a fan.''
While Boucher watches mostly the defense, Auger concentrates on the offensive players. He doesn't report to the coaches or make any formal observations but tries to be a resource for his teammates.
``If guys on our team have questions, what do I see up here, I'm able to project it pretty well,'' Auger said. ``You see everything up here before it happens. That's one of the things I had to realize in the first couple of games. It looks like a snail's pace up here, but when you are down on the ice, everything is moving so much faster. Sometimes you ask yourself, why didn't you make that play or didn't you see that?''
Mainly, the two stress out because they want so badly to be on the ice helping their teammates. This is the only way they can at the present as Boucher recovers from surgery on both hips and Auger rehabilitates from season-ending knee surgery.
Auger said he never volunteers information but will respond if teammates ask his opinion. The players don't need another critic, he said, they need someone who understands. Some players take the advice better than others.
Players he played with last season are always fine with Auger's observations, and veterans Brandon Marino and Tyler Butler have also been receptive.
``In general, you can point out certain aspects that I see,'' Auger said. ``I've seen from up here that at least you can't question our work ethic. Watching all the guys come backchecking, one of the things you see game in and game out is we have five guys back every game, but they are puck-watching a lot. You have to be very particular and careful how you word some things.''
Besides looking for opposing goaltender tendencies, Boucher also watches the Komets' netminders. Kenny Reiter, Charlie Effinger and Marco Cousineau have all sought out Boucher for advice.
``They want to take advantage of what's there,'' Boucher said. ``At this level, it's not often that a team has a guy around who is an extra goalie, and no AA-level team has a goalie coach. Most AAA teams don't have a goalie coach, but they have guys sent down from the NHL to help out. I think it's an unfortunate situation to have guys hurt, but it's a luxury to have guys around that they can confide in.''
Players know when they have made a mistake, so they don't need a deconstruction of the play, but most will ask for advice on what they might have done differently. It's nice to have someone they trust with a different perspective.
``It's so much easier to see it all up here,'' Auger said. ``Everyone knows what you are supposed to do up here because you can see the whole ice as the plays develop before it happens. The guys on the ice, good players see a high percentage of it, and we're all in this league for a reason.''