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Atkins proving not easy to overlook with Komets

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Rookie defenseman is making a big impact in camp

Wednesday, October 3, 2012 - 5:25 am

In some ways, Kyle Atkins sneaked onto the Fort Wayne Komets' training camp roster. The team announced the rookie defenseman's signing July 3, the same day that mainstays Colin Chaulk, Brett Smith and Kaleigh Schrock re-signed.

It was easy to get overlooked then, but the Holy Cross product has been showing he can play pretty well during training camp scrimmages that started Sunday. He's got some size at 6-foot-3, 204 pounds, and he can move the puck.

``I like to rush the puck or jump into the rush,'' Atkins said. ``I quarterbacked the power play last year at Holy Cross for my senior year. I try and get some offense going but at the same time be steady in every zone.''

Atkins scored six goals and 15 points in 30 games last year for the Crusaders. He trained hard over the summer in Brockville, Ontario, with his brother Tyler, who is going to training camp with the Central Hockey League's Denver Cutthroats, and best friend and goaltender Clarke Saunders, who is playing collegiately at North Dakota. It was nice to have someone to help push through the sprints and weight lifting.

``I'm a mixture of nervous and excited,'' Atkins said before the Komets' training camp started. ``It's my first pro experience, so I really don't know what to expect, but there are a lot of guys here who are in that mode. I've already met a bunch of guys coming out of college just like me, and so far it's been good so far.''

The crazy thing is that the Komets can only estimate how many open spots they have on the roster. They know they'll get some players from their affiliation with the American Hockey League's Norfolk Admirals, but they don't know how many for sure. There are also six players who will return from AHL camps at some point.

No one knows how many spots they are competing for or where they stand. They just know they have to keep playing.

``There's a bunch of guys here, and I don't think it does you any good to worry about everyone else and what they are doing and where they are coming from,'' Atkins said. ``You just go out and work hard and do what they want you to do, and hopefully it works out.''

The Komets need defensemen, especially ones who are big and can move the puck. Atkins might just sneak onto the regular roster, too.

``He's calm,'' veteran defenseman Tyler Butler said. ``I think it's the hardest position to transition from college to pro because you go from playing boys to men. They are going to have their bumps and bruises, but I'm 33, and I still have my bumps and bruises out there. It's part of playing 'D,' but they are pretty good. They can play.''

Icing the puck

The trash talk was flying Tuesday as the veterans finally showed up and engaged during the afternoon scrimmage. ... A shorter morning skate meant everybody had some legs left for the afternoon, and it showed immediately. ... There was a much faster tempo with the skates and the tongues, but with Brett Smith and Kaleigh Schrock on the same team, that's going to happen. ... Cory Schneider, Seth Ronsberg, Dan Nycholat, Matt Atsoff and Robbie Smith scored the goals. ... Matt Firman gets more aggressive with every shift and reminds some of Matt Syroczynski a little. ... The Smurf Line (what the coaches are calling them) of Brett Smith, Matt Atsoff and John Dunbar -- 5-8, 5-9 and 5-8 -- continues to impress. ... J.P. Chabot is a bull on skates. He got nailed a couple of times but seems to always keep moving forward. ... Tyler Butler is like Colin Chaulk in that he's always talking, teaching and encouraging on and off the ice. ... Ronsberg is getting better every day. ... Robbie Smith went head-to-head with Chaulk and never backed down. Smith is a very good defensive forward, so it's been interesting to watch. ... Stephon Thorne and Schrock went against each other a few times, neither giving an inch. All the rookies must think they hate each other. ... Larkin Saalfrank is also getting better in goal and is reacting quicker. ... Nycholat and Jeremy Gates had a very strong scrimmage as a defensive tandem. ... Dunbar may lead the world in shots taken this year. He gets the puck and it's gone. ... The scrimmage will be cut in half for a shootout. ... Goaltender Gerry Festa is always in control no matter what his defense is doing.