Sometimes, the Fort Wayne Komets are so inconsistent with their play that fans might wonder facetiously before a game which team is showing up.
Tonight, that's the reality.
The Komets might not know until late this afternoon what their lineup will be for tonight's game in Cincinnati, the first of three games this weekend against the North Division-leading Cyclones. Toledo is two points behind and the Komets four back, so it's an important series.
With the NHL lockout ending and training camps opening Sunday, there's been a furious few days of first calling up many players before realizing they may not be needed after all and sending some of them back. Because the work stoppage is not officially over until the NHL players ratify the new collective bargaining agreement, the rules in place prohibit American Hockey League players from moving up to NHL rosters. With fewer openings than expected in the AHL, most ECHL players are staying put.
``What I've been told is the training camp is so short they won't have as many guys attenidng the camp initially as they thought they would,'' Komets General Manager David Franke said. ``That will slow down the exodus from our team and other ECHL teams. We are going to lose some guys, probably (today), but... basically it's just a situation where we're waiting to find out who is going to be leaving and who is going to be staying.''
The Komets have already lost defenseman and ECHL All-Star Game participant Daniel Maggio to a tryout contract with Bridgeport of the AHL and defenseman Nick Schaus to a recall from Norfolk. Center Corey Elkins also left to play in Finland.
Franke is still planning on possibly losing one or two more players to the AHL this weekend, so the Komets have called up forward Brayden Metz and defenseman Nick Wheeler from Dayton of the Federal Hockey League and defenseman Jeremy Gates from Pensacola of the Southern Professional Hockey League. Metz and Gates were part of the Komets' training camp and have played a game with Fort Wayne on a fill-in basis already this season.
At different times this week, the Komets thought they might have to fill as many as eight spots with new players. They had already contacted Peter Cintala from Dayton and forwards Ron Cramer and John Dunbar from Pensacola but sent them back yesterday.
Then there were the problems with immigration. The ECHL requires players joining the league to have a P1 visa with teams before they can play, and the process of acquiring one can take two or three weeks. That's why ECHL teams are only calling up players who already have the visa or who are Americans. Dayton forward Ahmed Mahfouz with 25 goals and 69 points in 29 games has not been called up because he is Canadian.
By the time the immigration papers would be acquired, it's possible the player would no longer be needed.
Still, there will be plenty of opportunities for players to move up as soon as the NHL starts. No matter how much they have been skating, there's no way the NHL players will be in game shape for at least three weeks. There will be lots of pulled groins and hamstrings to knock players out of the lineup, and the goalies might hit the injured reserve list every day. The NHL clubs will call up players from the AHL, which will call the ECHL.
``I anticipate movement from now until the end of the season,'' Franke said. ``Maybe in the playoffs we'll be able to get some guys back here and load up for the playoff push. That's basically what happened to Florida last year.''
If last-place Norfolk misses the AHL playoffs, the Admirals could enhance the Komets at the end of the regular season. After all, the Admirals and their parent club, the Anaheim Ducks, would like to see their prospects gain playoff experience, too.
But until then, no one can be certain which team will show up each night.