(Best of 7)
Today: at Reading, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday: at Reading, 7:05 p.m.
April 24: at Fort Wayne, 7:30 p.m.
April 25: at Fort Wayne, 8 p.m.
April 27: at Fort Wayne, 6 p.m.*
April 29: at Reading, 7:05 p.m.*
April 30: at Reading, 7:05 p.m.*
Radio: 1190 AM, 92.3 FM
FORT WAYNE — The Komets have used nine goaltenders this season – a franchise record for the 62-year-old team – and Ben Meisner is the one left standing between the pipes.
They’ve pinned their hopes to the 23-year-old native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, heading into the first-round playoff series against the defending-champion Reading Royals that begins tonight in Pennsylvania at Santander Arena.
“This will be my first real go in the playoffs, and I’m excited for it,” said Meisner, who was 14-6-2 with a 2.39 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage in 24 games with the Komets during the regular season.
It’s been a tumultuous season for the Komets (36-24-12), who made 12 trades and had to win eight of their last 11 games to grab the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
After missing the 2013 playoffs, the Komets came into this season believing their goalies would be John Muse, who was called up to the American Hockey League after one game, and Cody Reichard, who was traded because of spotty play.
Goalie Andrey Makarov was called up, even backing up for the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. Matt Grogan, Kevin Murdock and Larkin Saalfrank weren’t experienced enough. Max Strang was merely a capable filler.
“It’s just the name of the game in this league,” Meisner said. “I’ve forged a good relationship with everybody who has come in here. We’re all wearing the same jersey, and we all want to win, no matter who is in net.”
The Komets are left with Steven Summerhays, who has played only two games since leaving Notre Dame, and Meisner, who was acquired in a Dec. 26 trade with Utah for forward Phil Mangan.
Meisner has sometimes been spotty; he gave up a shot from center ice in his first game. He has sometimes been amazing; he was selected ECHL Goaltender of the Week on Feb. 24. And he has sometimes been unable to play; he collapsed during a 5-4 loss March 19 to Orlando because of an accelerated heartbeat and dizziness, missing the next five games.
Now he speaks confidently about his ability and about the Komets’ chances in a best-of-seven series with the Royals (46-22-4).
“We’ve been playing some good hockey lately. It hasn’t always been as pretty as it could have been throughout the 60 minutes – there have been ups and downs – but good teams find a way,” Meisner said. “And you don’t make the playoffs if you don’t deserve to.”
Meisner starred at American International College, where he went 11-15-3 with a 2.98 GAA and a .923 SP in his senior season of 2012-13.
Last season, with Utah of the ECHL, he played 12 regular-season games but only two in the playoffs, going 0-1 and stopping 18 of 25 shots in 44 minutes as the Grizzlies were swept by Ontario.
“It was a tough situation for me,” Meisner said. “I made the playoff roster and was in a bad car accident. I had neck and vision issues. But to get a little bit of (playoff) experience was good, even if the numbers don’t reflect it.”
Meisner plans to maintain the routine that earned him his place with the Komets.
“None of us will change anything (in the playoffs). It’s just hockey,” he said. “Everybody puts their pants on the same way. We’ve beat everybody (we’ve played) in this league. For us, we’re not scared about anybody. The pressure’s going to be on Reading. … Everyone here believes in themselves, and I think we’re going to make some noise.”