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Reading at Fort Wayne
(series tied 1-1)
Faceoff: 7:30 p.m.
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM
Before the Komets' playoff series with the Reading Royals started, Fort Wayne captain Kaleigh Schrock defined what was going to happen.
"Playoffs are all about matchups,'' the veteran of two pro championships said. "It doesn't matter what the seeds are, it matters who you match up with, that team. Usually a team with more character is going to find a way to win a best-of-seven series.''
So far, the Komets and Royals match up almost perfectly in terms of speed, size and overall skill level, and the individual matchups have been fascinating to watch. They haven't gotten so in-depth that the coaches are assigning players to shadow the top opposing scorers, but basically the coaches have told every man on the ice to keep an eye on a group of snipers.
Because the Royals were the home team in the first two games, Reading coach Larry Courville was able to set up the pairings he liked. The road team is required by rule to present its five skaters on the ice first so the home team can send out the matchups it wants.
As an example, when the Komets sent out Scott Fleming, Chris Auger, Brandon Marino, Simon Danis-Pepin and Jordon Southorn, the Royals countered with top defensive center Ethan Cox, forwards Josh Brittain and Sean Wiles, and defensemen Bryant Molle and Brett Flemming in Game 1. The Royals stuck with Molle and Flemming against that group in Game 2.
"We were aware that was what they were going to try to do,'' Komets coach Gary Graham said. "You just have to play through it.''
The Royals obviously wanted to match Cox against Fleming and Molle and Flemming against ECHL leading scorer Marino. It's the same approach they took during the regular season, Molle said.
"That's our role on the team, to play against the other team's top lines,'' Molle said. "It's something I used to do in Fort Wayne, too, playing with (Brent) Henley. It's pretty common strategy.''
And what are the keys to playing against Marino and company?
"He's a tricky player, real crafty with the puck,'' Molle said. "Especially with him, you have to be aware of the other guys away from the puck. He won't be the guy to score the goal, but if you leave a guy open for a second he'll definitely find him. Auger is a great offensive player too, and has a great shot, We try to play him real tight, and not give him time to get that nice wrister off.''
The Royals like and respect Molle so much that they've already signed him for next season.
"We love him,'' Royals coach Larry Courville said. "He's a big piece to our team, and we use him as a shut-down guy. He's a leadership guy in our room.''
Obviously, any coach would like to have his best defenseman ready to go against the opponent's best offensive player. During the playoffs, that defenseman usually gets more help from his team's best defensive forwards.
Normally, the deeper a series goes, the more intense and important the matchups become as players learn and recognize more opponent tendencies. The playoffs are where role players can become most valuable, such as former Komet David Hukalo, who could take an opposing leading scorer out of a series with his defensive play.
As the importance of the matchups increases, the defensive players try to focus even more, while the offensive players try to ignore them.
"I think it benefits us playing on the road because it takes it out of everyone's mind,'' Auger said. "We just go out there and play. I don't think as our forward lines we're too overly concerned about who we're up against. Obviously, on some D-zone faceoffs you want Fleming out there as much as possible. You can get caught up into it too much, but realistically you have to go out and play.''