TOLEDO, Ohio — After every season, the Fort Wayne Komets try to take a significant chunk of time to evaluate what they learned. It's one way they try to get better the next year.
Some things are obvious, while some require more time to consider.
There's going to be a push to get younger, in part because Mike Embach, Travis Ewanyk, Dan Milan, Jamie Schaafsma, Cody Sol, Shawn Szydlowski and Will Weber will all be classified as veterans, and the ECHL limit is four per team. Some will retire and some will play elsewhere next year.
But the Komets need to get younger, hungrier and more disciplined. Who were their most consistent players all season in terms of effort? Their younger role players. But when the Komets needed their prime players to step up with that kind of effort and production during the playoffs, it didn't happen.
The Komets want to be hard to play against and want to play a hard game at home, but this is three years in a row when those penalties have given their opponents playoff games and knocked Fort Wayne into the summer. It's doubtful a team can play that regular-season style and still win in the playoffs. Regular-season reputations carry over into the postseason.
The Komets also have to get smarter as individual players. Some refused to learn from mistakes or adjust.
How many times in this series did they try to beat Jeff Lerg's glovehand? How many times did they shoot from 35 feet when there was no Toledo defender between them and the goal? How many times did they then complain because they didn't earn any power plays? You aren't allotted five per game, you get what you earn by forcing your opponents to take them, and the Komets never did that.
Why didn't the centers come back harder on defense which allowed Toledo to score seven goals from the high slot? How can some of the defensemen understand when to pinch into the offensive zone but others can't grasp the concept? How many times did the Komets give up goals within 10 feet of the net with no defender around?
How many times did defensemen go for hits along the boards at center ice and miss which led to odd-man rushes for the Walleye? How many times did the Komets have odd-man rushes and tried to get too cute and couldn't get a shot on net? How many times did they drive the net and then skate right by instead of stopping to possibly get into position for a rebound?
How often did the Komets rely on Pat Nagle or Garrett Bartus to erase their mistakes instead of moving their feet and hustling into position defensively? How come almost all of Toledo's goals came as the result of blatant Komets' mistakes?
Sometimes the players have to take responsibility for their own actions and results.
Gary Graham is at the end of his second two-year contract, and deserves another. To post 98 points this year without his No. 1 goalie for three months, without a full-time assistant coach, with nine AHL call-ups and without two of his top four defensemen in Gabriel Beaupre and Bobby Shea for 90 percent of the season is amazing. But he has to continue to improve as well. He's got to learn a different practice schedule that doesn't exhaust his players late in the season. This is two years in a row when the players have lost their legs during third periods in the playoffs.
The Komets also must design a team that can go after Toledo. Maybe that means faster, younger and hungrier. Graham is always motivated, and building teams is what he and General Manager David Franke do best. The rivalry with the Walleye will continue to grow, thank goodness. Toledo will be the target until the Komets can maybe become that team. The Walleye are a worthy opponent and definitely worth aiming for.
The worst thing about the playoffs the last three years is not that the opponents won, but that the Komets beat themselves again.
Everyone needs to take some time to learn from what happened this season.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Blake Sebring at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Season-ending fan party and jersey auction
Starts: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Memorial Coliseum
Cost: $5 for non-season ticket holders, children under age 12 free