One of the most interesting parts of last season was watching the progress of Komets forward Stephon Thorne. Unheralded coming in, he surprised everyone with a strong training camp and then kept getting better during the season. He scored 11 goals and 32 points in 64 games on the ``Redrum'' line with J.M. Rizk and Kaleigh Schrock.
Then, during the playoffs, the line was dominant in the Komets' title run, particularly in the finals against Wichita.
It could be even more fun to watch Thorne to see how much he improves this year.
``I think the biggest difference of Thorney is he came back with expectations of himself and a lot more confidence,'' Komets coach Al Sims said. ``You can see it when he's practicing and when he's playing. Last year he was just feeling his way and didn't want to make many mistakes. He was on the third line and didn't want to get sat out for making a mistake. This year he's much more confident with the puck and can do some different things.''
He's also bigger, putting on about 10 pounds of muscle over the summer. He's wider in the shoulders for more work in the corners.
``I just took my workouts a little more seriously,'' Thorne said. ``I have to be a little more prepared with going against bigger guys and younger guys also with more speed. I thought I needed a little more fitness so that's what I did.''
It shows. During the scrimmages, Thorne has been pounding everyone who gets in his way. It's obvious he feels he belongs on the ice and it's his area that others have to take from him when he's around the puck. He's been consistently burying defensemen in the corners.
``I knew it would be a lot easier on me going into the corners against bigger guys and having the puck coming out, not losing it every two or three times and having the puck most of the time,'' he said. ``That's where I knew I needed to bulk up more.''
Thorne is also working on other parts of this game, learning to be more patient with the puck. Last year, he'd get rid of it as soon as he got it, but throughout the season he learned to be more comfortable carrying it. Getting instruction from Komets' captain Colin Chaulk has helped.
``I listen to Chaulker a lot and he's a type of guy who loves the puck on this stick,'' Thorne said. ``I'm a chip and chase player, but I also have a little bit of skill in me and he's been teaching me that. I've been trying to be a little more patient with myself, patient on the ice and trying to make a little more decisions out there. I learned to have more confidence in myself.''
That doesn't mean he's going to get fancy all of a sudden or forget how he needs to play. He's just going to expand his game a little.
``I'm just going to play the same way I've been playing my whole career, chip and chase and have fun out there, never have a bad day and always have fun,'' he said. ``That's what me and Rizk and Schrockie have been harping on this year, let's have some fun. We know how we can play with each other and how well it goes. As long as we have fun, that's the way we have good success.'
Icing the puck
The Komets are not expected to play any veterans during tonight's first exhibition game against Evansville. There's a chance some vets may play Sunday, but that's also unlikely. After five days of scrimmaging, Komets coach Al Sims wants to see what the rookies can do under game conditions.
``The biggest part for us is these games in the afternoon when we really get a gage on how smart a guy is and how patient he is, is he physical or non-physical? We get all that from these games, and I'm sure we'll get a lot more from Evansville on Saturday and Sunday.''
The Komets only have a few spot open, maybe two forwards and two defensemen. Sims said he's going to pick his roster as if the Komets are not receiving any players from their affiliation with Norfolk of the American Hockey League. When those players show up, then he'll re-evaluate what he has.
``The agreement is they are here to play, and obviously if they are not good enough, they will send them on to other teams in our league,'' Sims said. ``If we're getting borderline American Hockey League players, they should be pretty good.''
The Komets got news Friday that defenseman Brent Henley has been released by Connecticut, and goaltender Charlie Effinger has been released by Grand Rapids. Both will be in the lineup Friday when the Komets open the regular season.