During most years heading into the Komets' training camp, experienced fans can look at the preseason roster and make educated guesses what the opening-night lineup will look like. That may not be as easy this year. The Komets have plenty of talent signed, but because of the NHL lockout, no one is quite sure who will be in Fort Wayne on Oct. 12.
Oh, and the Komets are also starting play in their third league over the past four seasons and fourth over the last seven.
Camp starts Saturday at Memorial Coliseum, which unfortunately is not open to the public. Besides home exhibition games next weekend against Evansville, the only time fans can check out a training camp practice will be 10 a.m.-noon Oct. 5 at Lutheran Health SportsCenter.
There's a lot to consider this year, so let's get started with our 10 questions facing the Komets.
1. How much different will the ECHL be than the Central Hockey League?
The players all say Class AA hockey is Class AA hockey, and they are likely correct, but the overall talent level might be a little faster and hungrier if not as experienced, which could lead to more mistakes. Everybody thinks they could be the next call-up. The goaltending will be better throughout the league, but the defense may not be as good because of less experience. The overall talent of the younger players will also be stronger individually.
2. How does this Komets' lineup compare to last year?
Colin Chaulk, Brett Smith, Kaleigh Schrock, Chris Auger, J.M. Rizk, Stephon Thorne, Daniel Maggio and Brent Henley are scheduled to return, and the Komets signed the non-veteran CHL All-Star Team. Brandon Marino and Eric Giosa come from Quad City, J.P. Chabot and Tyler Butler from Arizona, and Charlie Effinger from Missouri. Then add in expected Bridgeport-assignee Kenny Reiter and three to five players from Norfolk, and that's a loaded lineup. The 20-man opening-day rosters are due at 3 p.m. Oct. 11.
3. Who could be the hot rookies?
They'll likely be defensemen. The Komets think they might have gotten lucky with blueliners Scott Kishel from Minnesota-Duluth, Kyle Atkins from Holy Cross and Chris Haltigin from RIT. All three will get a long look to make the team. Don't be surprised if Nicolas Thommen and Linus Werneman make big impressions, too.
4. Last year the Komets struggled to score. Will that be a problem again?
Last year CHL teams averaged 3.10 goals per game, and ECHL teams 3.06, but the Komets should be stronger offensively. Marino was the CHL's Most Valuable Player, Goisa scored 70 points and Chabot had 22 goals, and that's not even counting the additions from Norfolk who might likely be playing in the AHL except for the lockout.
5. But don't the Komets need offensive-minded defenseman to run the power play?
Sure, but so does every team in the minors. The Komets have Butler and Maggio already signed, and they think they can get production out of Kishel, Atkins and Haltigin there, along with getting one or two defensemen from Norfolk. If they don't like what they see, there will still be dozens of blueliners looking for a job when the season starts. Remember, last year the Komets brought in Henley and Jamie Lovell after the season started.
6. With Nick Boucher on the shelf after surgery on both hips, who takes over in goal?
Remember in 2007 when the Shawn DeGagne suffered an injury? That opened the way for Boucher, and now this may be an opportunity for Effinger and/or Reiter to become the next dominant Komets netminder. The news was awful this summer when it was announced Boucher needed surgery, but the Komets were still able to get the two goalies they wanted, which is amazing. Plus, Boucher could be ready to play in January.
7. How much player movement will there be during the season?
Last year it seemed a player was moved to injured reserve every week or two. This year there could be movement between the Komets and Norfolk or the IR several times each week. Also, any player is eligible to be called up whether or not he is under an AHL contract. The ECHL roster rules are also different with a 20-man active roster and a limit of four veterans who start the season with more than 260 games played. The injured reserve list consists of two reserve list spots with no minimum time and unlimited numbers of 21-day spots.
8. How are the rules different from the CHL?
Besides the tighter veteran restrictions and injured reserve rules, there's no minimum number of rookies required in the lineup each night. The ice is not resurfaced for shootouts, and all 16 skaters have to shoot before someone can shoot again. The ECHL is also hyper-sensitive on blows to the head and about players, coaches or team officials commenting online. Broadcaster Bob Chase and public address announcer Larry Schmitt better be a little more careful sometimes.
9. How will the affiliation with Norfolk work?
That's what everyone wonders, including the Komets and the Admirals. Because of the NHL lockout, no one can be certain, though the Admirals expect to send between three and five players to Fort Wayne to start the season. There will be a lot of turnover, but the Komets took a different plan than most ECHL teams who use their AHL affiliates to stock most of their important players. The Komets signed who they wanted and are using the AHL affiliation to fill in their roster holes. One difference will be Komets coach Al Sims will have a lot more paperwork to fill out on affiliated players.
10. What will the fans notice about Memorial Coliseum that is different?
The menu boards in the concession stands have been replaced with digital boards that can also provide video footage from the game. Credit cards can also be used at every register in the building. Maybe the most obvious change will be improved sound quality with 25 digital amplifiers that will hopefully provide cleaner, more balanced sound production throughout the arena.