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During the Fort Wayne Komets' stints in four previous leagues, the officials were often as recognizable as the players. The men who showed up every weekend to call regular-season games also were the ones blowing the whistles during the playoffs, and there was incredible familiarity with players and fans.
The ECHL uses the same officials in the playoffs as in the regular season, but there's a broader talent pool to pick from. The Komets' first five playoff games had five different referees.
ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna said the ECHL system is strictly based on merit. The best officials from the regular season will work early in the playoffs, and the best arbitrators from the early playoff games will get more work later.
"Whether a guy is a 10-year vet or a first- or second-year official, if they are working well, we want to make sure they get the opportunity to continue to work,'' McKenna said. "We want to make sure things are as consistent as possible. By the time you get to the finals you'll see our best four or five linesmen and our best three or four referees.''
Also unlike the Komets' previous leagues, the ECHL does not have two or three veteran whistle-blowers to rely on to call key games during the playoffs. Because the ECHL is a developmental league most of the current crop of officials have been working in the league less than five years. Just like the players, they either move up or move on.
During the regular season, as we get closer to the end, the better guys are going to work more. Round by round in the playoffs it's based on merit, and then we'll determine from there who is working the best and who we want to put into the final games.
After using the two-referee system in the 2012 Kelly Cup Finals, this will be the second year the ECHL uses two referees in the conference finals.
"The AHL is probably to the point where about 50 percent of their games use two referees,'' McKenna said. "We haven't gone that way yet, but it's something our board will probably continue to look at.''
That discussion could take place at the ECHL's annual meetings in June. Another topic could be the possibility of changing the division or conference format, McKenna said. Because the 2014-15 schedule has already been completed, any potential changes wouldn't take place until the 2015-16 season.
There could also be discussion on change playoff formats. After two years, do the owners want to consider keeping a best-of-seven first round? Do they want a nonqualifying team from the Eastern Conference to play in the Western Conference ahead of a team with fewer points?
"That will be discussed,'' McKenna said. "If possible we want to stay away from byes. With eight teams in the West it's going to be difficult to do that and still have credibility in your regular season. I think it's probably better to have six or seven teams out of the eight make it or you look at some sort of potential crossover.''
Do they want to make other changes to the playoffs?
"We're going to look at various divisional alignments,'' McKenna said. "It's always an advantage for cost reasons and rivalry reasons if you can play that first round or two within your own division. As you get deeper, then you start to see some teams from further away.''
The Komets will open second-round play in the ECHL's Kelly Cup playoffs at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Cincinnati. The fifth-seeded Cyclones finished off No. 4 Orlando 2-1 on Tuesday night in Florida to finish that first-round series in six games.
The first two games will be played Friday and Saturday at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati. The Komets, the No. 8 seed, will host Game 3 on May 8, Game 4 on May 10 and Game 5 on May 11.
The Komets were 5-1-2 against the Cyclones during the regular season.
In other first-round action, Greenville defeated Kalamazoo 3-1 to win that series in six games, which means for the first time in ECHL history, all top four seeds in the Eastern Conference have been eliminated. Greenville will face Wheeling in the other Eastern Conference semifinal series.
1) Friday, Fort Wayne at Cincinnati, 7:35 p.m.
2) Saturday, Fort Wayne at Cincinnati, 7:35 p.m.
3) Thursday, May 8, Cincinnati at Fort Wayne, 7:30 p.m.
4) Saturday, May 10, Cincinnati at Fort Wayne, 7:30 p.m.
*5) Sunday, May 11, Cincinnati at Fort Wayne, 6 p.m.
*6) Tuesday, May 13, Fort Wayne at Cincinnati, 7:35 p.m.
*7) Wednesday, May 14, Fort Wayne at Cincinnati, 7:35 p.m.
* If necessary
The ECHL announced Tuesday afternoon that Komets forward Mike Embach has been fined for his clipping major penalty late in the third period Sunday night against Reading's Kevin Walrod, but no further suspension is necessary. Details of the fine are kept confidential.