``Yeah, here that's a fair statement,'' Komets forward Chris Auger said. ``That's all you hear about, `Are you guys going to win this year?' It's not, `Are you going to have a good team?' ''
Though the Komets advanced past the first round for the 11th time in their last 12 playoff appearances, it was easy to forget that Auger and Kaleigh Schrock were the only players remaining who had won a championship ring with Fort Wayne. They were part of the 2012 Central Hockey League championship squad.
The Komets also won International Hockey League championships in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Some fans don't put as much emphasis on those three titles as they do the CHL title because the IHL was a smaller league.
That's kind of simplistic way to look at it because at least two of the teams the Komets beat for IHL titles would have easily handled the Wichita team Fort Wayne beat for the CHL crown. They were more experienced, more talented, better coached and they had better goaltending.
Winning a championship again didn't happen this year, but the Komets were probably much closer than anyone expected. They'll find out how close as they watch how Cincinnati does in the next two rounds.
``Hockey is a very opportunistic game,'' Schrock said. ``You can out-play somebody for 50 minutes, but they can cash in on their opportunities and that's it. As long as you go out and give the effort, and limit your mistakes, more times than not you're going to find a way to win games.''
It's the old ``Will beats skill'' mantra, which works in hockey more than in any other sport. Players and fans all believe their team can win as long as they want it bad enough.
``It's not going to happen every year because you're going to run into hot teams, you're going to have bad luck and injuries sometimes,'' Schrock said. ``I personally thought our goal this year was to make a deep run into the playoffs and develop a core that could come back and have a chance to win next year. I think the consistency factor comes in... You're not going to be in the finals every year, but as long as you are competing for that opportunity and you are good enough to do it, then that's important. If you are in the hunt every year, that's the goal, to have a chance to lift the trophy.''
That's fine for the players, who have been dealing with the fans expectations that they win all season, maybe even especially when the Komets were struggling to win at home. The players felt the pressure. Many fans didn't care how well the team played on the road because that's not what they were paying to watch.
``The fans demand the best and they can do that and should do that,'' Auger said. ``They are paying good money to watch us play. Is it unrealistic to deem a season bad if you don't win a championship? Yeah, of course.
``But here, especially this season, you can't rule this year as a success just based on the home record and the way everything happened this year. There was too much stuff that went on.''
What's funny is that so few of the current players had any idea of the expectations in Fort Wayne. They don't know the franchise's history, and to them, the name on the back of the jersey is every bit as important as the one on the front. To them, Fort Wayne is no different than Kalamazoo, Wheeling, Cincinnati or Chicago. Their priority is to move up to the American Hockey League and further their careers.
That's part of why it took so long for the team to come together this season, and why so many trades needed to be made. The players who left, generally, refused to buy into the team concept. Some didn't care about anything but their own points.
``I think it's cool that the fans demand that, but at the end of the day we play minor league hockey,'' Auger said. ``Guys want to win because that's the biggest way to get your career to the next level, to play on winning teams. The year after we won, everyone got good contract offers from other teams.''
And if they aren't going to the AHL, they want to go to Europe where the money is so much better. The players all have agents who are looking for their best options all the time.
Especially in the ECHL, the players and the team sometime have different goals, and it's up to the coach to channel both in one direction.
So do the Komets have to win a title for it to be a successful season?
``Yes, that's the way people see things here,'' Schrock said.
But who specifically?
``The people who wear orange and black in the stands.''
But the people in the stands have to remember that even the Komets have to start over sometimes.
|Courtesy CHL Memes|
DID YOU KNOW: If you go back to all of the CHL champions since 1996 (19 years) every team is no longer in the league with the exception of the Arizona Sundogs (2008), Rapid City Rush (2010) and the Allen Americans (2013 & 2014).