For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blakesebring and at his blog www.tailingthekomets.com.
ECHL Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals series
Fort Wayne Komets vs Reading Royals
1) Thursday at Reading, 7:05 p.m.
2) Saturday at Reading, 7:05 p.m.
3) Thursday, April 24 at Fort Wayne, 7:30 p.m.
4) Friday, April 25 at Fort Wayne, 8 p.m.
5) *Sunday, April 27 at Fort Wayne, 6 p.m.
6) *Tuesday, April 29 at Reading, 7:05 p.m.
7) *Wednesday, April 30 at Reading, 7:05 p.m.
*- If necessary
During the franchise's 62-year history, the best thing the Fort Wayne Komets have been known for is goaltending. From Reno Zanier, Chuck Adamson, Gerry Randall and Robbie Irons to Bob Essensa, Pokey Reddick, Tom Lawson, Kevin Reiter and Nick Boucher, during their best seasons the Komets have almost always had an all-league netminder.
That hasn't been the case this season, but it's likely the Komets' goaltending is as good as it's been right now. And it will need to be.
As those previously mentioned players proved again and again, the playoffs are all about goaltending and the ability to bounce back from a bad goal, a bad game or a bad shift by their teammates. Goaltenders have to be able to erase mistakes. This is their time to step up and lead.
That's something Ben Meisner and Steven Summerhays have been doing better recently. They haven't necessarily shown the ability to keep their team in games single-handedly, but they have shown that they can compete with anyone.
And for much of the season, that's what the Komets were lacking, especially in the first half. There were too many soft goals, which was a bigger problem because the team wasn't mentally tough enough to overcome them. Because of timing, the weaker goals killed the team's resilience and players seemed to deflate on the next shift. They were fighting so hard to compete they couldn't handle failure.
This second-half improvement is due in part to the goaltenders but also to the skaters and the coaching staff. The players have done a much better job of keeping opponents on the perimeter, knocking away rebounds and playing the defensive system. That allowed the goaltenders to relax a little and in turn play well enough to give their teammates more confidence.
It took a while to get there, though, as the Komets used a record nine goaltenders. Some were better on the road than playing at home. Some were better at rebound control, some better at communicating with teammates and some better at challenging opposing shooters. No one seemed able to put it all together.
It's a fair question to wonder how much of the first-half turmoil would have gone on if John Muse hadn't been called up to the American Hockey League after the season's first game. He would have given the Komets a solid, all-league potential goaltender who could have have won a few games on his own and maybe have provided more time to work through out some of those problems on the rest of the team.
It took the Komets all season to recover from Muse's call-up. Cody Reichard didn't work out, Andrey Markarov never learned to control rebounds, Meisner needed time to win at home and then there were four goaltenders used in two games. Matt Grogan was a lifesaver for four games, and now Summerhays shows the potential for a solid professional career.
Meisner won huge games this season in places like Reading, Cincinnati and Florida. When the Komets absolutely needed a road win, Meisner got it for them. He was a rock away from home, 12-1, and lately played better at home as well.
But the playoffs are where goaltender reputations are built. There's a reason the Komets retired the jerseys of Adamson and Boucher at the beginning of this season. There's a reason why Reddick and Lawson and Don Atchison are revered in this town.
Spring in Fort Wayne is about the playoffs, and it's almost always about the Komets' goaltender.