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  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Curtis Leonard has embraced his role as a stay-at-home defenseman for the Komets.

  • Katie Rausch | The Toledo Blade The Toledo Walleye's Austen Brassard, top, and Dylan Sadowy, right, can't get control of the puck from the Komets' Mason Baptista, middle,as he kicks it out to teammate Curtis Leonard, bottom, at the Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

  • Standout Imagery | Colorado Eagles Komets defenseman Curtis Leonard tangles with Colorado Eagles forward Michael Joly in front of the net at the Budweiser Events Center, but Joly was able to score one of his three Game 1 goals on netminder Michael Houser in Loveland, Colorado, on Saturday.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018 1:00 am

ECHL Playoffs

Leonard just does his job

Komets' defenseman enjoys less-glorious dirty work

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Schedule

Who: Komets vs. Colorado

What: Western Conference finals

Series: Tied at 1

Game 1: Colorado 3, Komets 2, OT

Game 2: Komets 3, Colorado 2

Game 3: 7:30 p.m. today at Memorial Coliseum

Game 4: 8 p.m. Friday at Coliseum

Game 5: 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Coliseum

Game 6: 9 p.m. Tuesday at Colorado*

Game 7: 9 p.m. May 23 at Colorado*

*If necessary

LOVELAND, Colo. – The old adage in hockey is that if you notice a defenseman on the ice, it's probably because he's doing something wrong.

It doesn't necessarily hold true this season – the Komets' Ryan Culkin, Jason Binkley and Bobby Shea are known as much for their offense as their defense – but Curtis Leonard is a throwback to the stay-at-home defenseman.

And he's just fine with that.

“Some guys take pride in scoring goals. I take pride in having watched the gaps and keeping pucks out of our net, making things easier on our goalies,” said Leonard, whose Komets play Game 3 of the Western Conference finals at 7:30 tonight at Memorial Coliseum.

Coming off a 3-2 victory over the defending-champion Colorado Eagles on Sunday at the Budweiser Events Center, a game that was preceded by a melee during warm-ups, the Komets and Eagles are tied in the best-of-7 series at 1.

Leonard's contributions in the playoffs so far have been about what one would have expected: 10 games, zero goals, one assist, nine shots on goal, a plus-5 rating and a lot of sharp defensive plays and hard checks to make things easier on the goaltenders, Michael Houser and Garrett Bartus.

“It's probably not the most glorious job on a hockey team. But every team has to have them, and I like doing it,” Leonard said. “I take pride in it. It's fun. You see when guys take on their roles and have pride in what they're doing, and we're having success.”

This is Leonard's third season with the Komets – he's totaled seven goals, 39 points and 92 penalty minutes in 146 regular-season games, plus two assists and six penalty minutes in 20 playoff games – and he's had to protect teammates using his 6-foot-3, 201-pound body.

“You still want to score and contribute offensively when you've got your chances,” said Leonard, 25. “Don't get me wrong, I love scoring as much as anybody. But at the same time, you do your job as best as you can.”

In the playoffs, Leonard's partner, Shea, leads Komets defensemen in scoring with three goals and seven points. Binkley, who is paired with Cody Sol, has two goals and six points. Culkin and Ryan Lowney have combined for two goals and eight points.

The Komets also have rookie Kevin McKernan, who has played six postseason games, and Daniel Maggio, who has six goals and eight points playing mostly forward, but he's been suspended by the ECHL for the next three games for his part in the pre-game fracas. Fort Wayne's Dennis Kravchenko and Colorado's Gabriel Verpaelst, who sat out Sunday's game after fighting, must serve four more games of suspensions, and Colorado's Joey Ratelle has three more.

Setting off the fracas was the Komets' displeasure over Houser getting injured on a Ryan Harrison hit in overtime of the 3-2 Game 1 loss. Bartus played in Game 2, stopping 19 of 21 shots.

A key for the Komets, who have been battling through an abundance of injuries for months, has been their ability to endure these obstacles. They're the only team that didn't win its division still playing – Florida and Adirondack are tied at 1 in the Eastern Conference finals – and forward Trevor Cheek, back from Tucson of the higher-level American Hockey League, will rejoin the Fort Wayne lineup tonight.

“When you come into something like this, you take your role and you embrace your role,” Leonard said. “My role has to be a calming presence and to get pucks in (to the offensive zone) and to get pucks out (of the defensive zone), and to not be a liability defensively. I've always been like that. It's fun and I take pride in it.”

Notes: The Komets' full 72-game schedule for next season was unveiled, and it will begin Oct. 12 against the Indy Fuel in Indianapolis and end April 7 at the Coliseum against Wheeling. The most common opponent will be Kalamazoo with 13 games. The Komets will face Cincinnati, Indy and Toledo 11 times. The Komets will play at new team St. John's, Newfoundland, Feb. 8, 9 and 10.

jcohn@jg.net