It's been a very tough but satisfying week for former Komets assistant coach and Fort Wayne native Gary Graham. Coaching in his first year with Pensacola of the Southern Professional Hockey League, Graham has the IceFlyers competing for first place after a tough start.
Things got tougher last week when eight of his players were called up to the ECHL and the Central Hockey League, including John Dunbar, Ron Cramer and Jeremy Gates to the Komets. Though it leaves Graham short-handed, he's thrilled his players have performed well at the higher level.
``It's been amazing to watch a great group of guys,'' Graham said. ``It's all about relationships and giving your guys an opportunity to show what they can do, and I'm very proud of them.''
The IceFlyers will also be represented in tonight's Komets game at Evansville by IceMen defenseman Donnie Harris and goaltender Ross McKinnon, who was a college teammate of both Gates and Kaleigh Schrock at Neumann College, now Neumann University.
The IceFlyers are also playing well, going 5-0-1 in their last six games. Former Komets Gerry Festa, T.J. Miller and Leo Thomas are leading the team on the ice.
``Leo's been a great leader,'' Graham said of his captain. ``He's been really encouraging to all the younger guys. I meet with my captains every Monday morning, and we're all about winning here. They carry the message in the locker room. We have the league's lowest goals against average, and that's the reason why we've been successful. The guys have bought in, and it starts at the top with Leo and our captains.''
Because the circus was in town last week, the IceFlyers had no ice to practice on. Then they had all the call-ups before a showdown for first place at Louisiana. Without even a pre-game morning skate, the IceFlyers played well before losing 3-2 in a shootout.
``We competed very hard and we have some more adversity this week,'' Graham said. ``It's not different than what the ECHL teams are dealing with.''
Graham is not the only minor league coach with strong Fort Wayne ties. Fort Wayne native Brian Gratz has guided Bloomington of the CHL to a 19-15-1 start. Former Komet Kevin Kaminski has led Louisiana to a 19-8-1 mark and first place in the SPHL, and former Komet Bruce Ramsay's Tulsa team in the CHL is struggling with a 10-24-3 mark.
Besides Matt Firman, Scott Kishel and Dan Nycholat who have been playing regularly in Fort Wayne, there are more than a handful of players from the Komets training camp who have played in the ECHL this season. Cory Schneider and Ricky Helmbrecht have played with Cincinnati, Patrick Knowlton is sticking with Toledo, and now Brayden Metz, Mike Hoban, John Dunbar and Jeremy Gates have joined the Komets.
Bones is the man, almost
Former Komets equipment manager Mark ``Bones'' Bradtmueller was signed recently as an emergency backup goaltender with Pensacola of the SPHL. It's the third time already this season he's been called on to back up, but so far he has not had to play.
Bradtmueller sometimes practiced with the Komets whenever one of the regular goalies was injured or needed a day off.
"I was spectacular out there," Bradtmueller said after a 2010 practice. "If it wasn't for the goalposts, I don't think a save would have gotten made on my end."
Henley gets the call
Komets defenseman Brent Henley left Tuesday for Lake Erie of the AHL for at least the weekend.
``I'm very excited,'' he said. ``This is the whole reason I stayed in North America this season, another shot at a couple of more games. If I have to come back, this is obviously where I want to come back to.''
Fellow defenseman Daniel Maggio has been released from his three-game tryout with Bridgeport, and the Komets are expecting him to play in Evansville tonight. Forward Luca Caputi will also play after coming off injured reserve from an upper body injury, but defenseman Dan Nycholat is battling the flu. Komets may play with nine forwards and six defensemen.
``We may know more about the players at Norfolk soon,'' General Manager David Franke said. ``They could be coming back in time for the weekend, but I don't know if it's going to be our guys or a combination of guys. I think it will get better by the weekend.''
Brandon Marino and J.M. Rizk both played Tuesday night for Norfolk of the AHL.
It's a big deal
The Komets have already used 44 players this season, compared to 27 all of last season. That number is likely to increase. The most players the Komets have ever used in a season was 52 in 1996-97. The last time they used as many as 50 was in 1999-2000, their first season in the United Hockey League.
As a comparison, Cincinnati used 70 players last season in the ECHL.
The Komets are 6-10 at home against division rivals Cincinnati, Toledo, Evansville and Kalamazoo, including 1-6 against Cincinnati and Toledo. The Komets have won back-to-back home games only twice this season and never three in a row. They have the league's fifth-best road record at 11-6-2, including 8-3-1 against division foes.
The Komets are not the only North Division team struggling to find consistency at home. Cincinnati is 12-7-1, Toledo is 9-6-3, Evansville is 10-12 and Kalamazoo is 10-9.
Strange but true stats
The Komets are 1-4 when trailing after two periods at home and 1-8 when trailing after three periods. They are also 4-7 at home when tied after the first period. They are 3-8 when getting outshot at home. On the road, they are 6-3-2 when tied after the first period and 7-5-1 when getting outshot by an opponent.
The Komets have been outscored 59-40 and out-shot 428-367 during the third periods overall this season. These numbers don't make much sense because you'd figure the numbers must be disastrous at home as compared with the road where the Komets are 11-6-2, right? They've been outscored 31-22 during the third period at home, but they have outshot opponents 227-193 at home in the third, so the numbers are much worse on the road.
Icing the puck
The Komets have outshot six of their last eight opponents, holding five of those to fewer than 30 shots. They are averaging 33 against and 30 for on the season. ... Former Komet Bobby McNeil is trying to overcome brain surgery for cancer. For anyone wishing to send a get well card, the address is Sunnybrook Hospital, 2075 Bayview Ave., Toronto, ON M4N 3M5, Canada. ... The Komets are showing better discipline of late and have cut their penalty minutes per game to 21.15, down about four minutes from a month ago. ... As Kalamazoo hosts the Komets on Saturday night, the Wings are going to wear special McDonald's-themed jerseys to benefit the Ronald McDonald House of West Michigan. ... Komets defenseman Tyler Butler played his 600th career game Saturday against Cincinnati.