There's maybe been only a handful of times since his family bought the team in 1990 that Fort Wayne Komets President Michael Franke has felt the need to comment after a game. It's never a good sign.
"In 27 years that was by far the worst performance and most embarrassing performance that a Fort Wayne Komets team has ever displayed," Franke said. "I'm embarrassed and I apologize to the fans for what happened tonight."
The Komets' Christmas break started three hours earlier than it was supposed to Friday night as they were thoroughly whipped by the Brampton Beast 6-1 before 7,009 Memorial Coliseum fans. The loss hurts even more because the Komets could have jumped over Tulsa and into second place in the ECHL's Central Division. The Oilers lost 4-3 at Quad City as the Mallards pulled within a point of the Komets for third place.
The Komets couldn't win a faceoff, clear a rebound, block a shot, back check effectively, carry the puck into the Brampton zone or get to a rebound. There were long stretches when the Komets could barely connect on two consecutive passes.
"I think our inability to be flexible in the gameplan really hurt us," Komets coach Gary Graham said. "We kept trying to do the same things that weren't working. For whatever reason the mental side of the game was really frustrating tonight. Guys were getting frustrated by the lack of calls they were expecting to get. There was a lot of hooking, and grabbing and clutching and interference, and guys were getting frustrated and it started to get to the guys mentally, and the mental side of it is what really hurts tonight.
"There's no excuses to play like that... that team that we faced, they were on in all three phases and we were off in all three phases. Back-to-back games playing with five defensemen doesn't help. They had a good gameplan, they had a lot of speed, and they put our D under a lot of duress and that definitely hurt us. That was a big part of their gameplan, you could see that, and you have to tip your hat to them."
The Beast never let the Komets have a chance. Despite two early power plays, Fort Wayne didn't get its first shot on goal until there was only 7:24 left in the first period. By then the Beast had 16 shots on Komets goaltender Garrett Bartus and a 1-0 lead. Fort Wayne forward Mike Embach blocked a Brampton power-play shot and scored off a 2-on-1 with Kyle Thomas, but then the Komets gave up three more goals in less than three minutes.
Bartus, who was 5-0-1 coming into the game, was pulled after giving up four goals on 22 shots. The Komets could never solve Brampton's defense and didn't get their 10th shot until near the end of the second period. They didn't get their 11th until the first 16:41 had been played in the third period. By then the Beast led in shots 37-11 and on the scoreboard 6-1.
The Komets' 12 shots on goal is not a team record, and neither is their two shots on goal during the third period. They tried eight shots against Milwaukee on March 8, 1953, and had no shots in a period on Oct. 31, 1989 at Salt Lake. Those games were lots of fun to watch, too.
Former Komets Brandon Marino and Chris Auger scored two of the Beast's goals. Fort Wayne had no counter for Brampton's 1-3-1 neutral zone defense that stacked the red line and dared the Fort Wayne puck carriers to dump into the zone. Often, the Beast players picked the puck off and skated quickly up ice in transition for strong shots on goal.
"Our guys executed the plan perfectly," said Brampton coach and former Komet Colin Chaul. "They're believing and they are playing together. Our message tonight was patience."
The Komets were playing without seven of their regulars because of injuries, including forward Garrett Thompson and defenseman Will Weber who were hurt Wednesday in Quad City. Both have lower body injuries and will miss two-to-four weeks, and the Komets also found out that defenseman Cody Sol will miss at least three weeks with a knee injury.
The players have to be back in town Monday night for a Tuesday morning skate before that night's game against Indy.
For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at @blakesebring, at his blog tailingthekomets.com and on Facebook at Blake Sebring.