For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blakesebring and at his blog www.tailingthekomets.com.
Komets at Kalamazoo
Face-off: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM
Part of the fun of being in a developmental hockey league is watching young players improve. Maybe no Komets players have improved as much this season as defenseman Joe Hartman and Will Lacasse, and they've done it together as a defensive pairing.
Lacasse, 26, was one of the Komets' last cuts in training camp, but coach Gary Graham sent him Bloomington and said he'd see him soon. Since being called up on Nov. 13, he's teamed with rookie Hartman to form possibly the Komets' most-consistent defensive pairing.
``They are playing really good hockey,'' Graham said. ``Hartsy is more of a defensive guy, but you can see that Will has some skill, too. They are working good as a tandem. They have been a pleasant surprise playing against second-line match-ups.''
No one would have looked at these two players at the start of the season and thought they would have made an excellent defensive pairing. Lacasse is playing in his second pro season, Hartman is a rookie and both play basically the same defensive-first style. They also shoot from the same side.
But it works.
``Since I got back, I've tried to be a defensive defenseman and take care of my own zone,'' Lacasse said. ``Hartsy is the same guy, and it's a lot about communication.''
Because they have learned to communicate so well on and off the ice, the pair has also learned to trust each other. Developing that trust has made the better players and earned trust from Graham who feels comfortable using them in more situations.
``You have to be able to trust your D-partner a lot and help each other out,'' Hartman said. ``It's something we've been building on and we're getting better and better at it. A lot of times you have more time than you think and other times you are really pressed by a hard forecheck, but having Will back there to be an extra pair of eyes for me really helps.''
On the ice, the key part of the communication is listening to your defensive partner when your own back is to the play and you are facing the boards trying to play the puck. If there's an opportunity to take time and turn and look, the partner yells, ``Time! Time! Time!'' If there's no time, they'll usually yell ``Reverse!'' to mean a pass to them, or ``Up!'' which means chuck it up the boards on that side.
``For me, playing with Hartsy, it is such a simple game,'' Lacasse said. ``He helped me out a lot coming in. I didn't know what kind of game I had to play, but he talks a lot on the ice and that helps.''
If you've got a quiet partner, it can make the moves much more difficult to figure out on your own. Sometimes players forget about communicating and try to rely only on their skill, which can lead to trouble.
``There are sometimes I make plays that I don't see, but I hear him calling to me and I make that play,'' Hartman said. ``Without him out there, it can be extremely difficult.''
The Komets didn't know what either player could do coming into training camp, but they are building pro careers every game. Now they are reliable, steady defensemen who will almost assuredly earn another pro contract next season.
And they've still got more than half the season to continue improving.