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Younger players are stepping up with opportunity

Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - 5:15 am

Usually, this time of the season is when hockey teams need their rookies or call-ups to pick up the production. The all-star break is over, but the season is entering the dog days because it's just a little early to start looking ahead to the playoffs.

The Komets got a huge boost this season when they called up forwards Mike Hoban and John Dunbar and defenseman Nick Wheeler from the Class A level of hockey.

``They are good young players working hard, and we needed that through this stretch,'' veteran center Brett Smith said. ``We were going through a mean stretch of games, guys getting called up and guys getting injured. Even your top scorers aren't going to score all the time and you need guys to come in and fill in, and they've done that. They worked hard and this is their opportunity. They've done well with it.''

Hoban, 23, has played the most games with 16 and has four goals. Two were game-winners, one was a first goal and the other was a tying goal. Dunbar, 21, has played nine games and has scored four goals and seven point, and Wheeler, 24, has three points in nine games and has been earning more ice time every week.

``The young kids really provided a lot of energy, a very positive attitude in the locker room,'' General Manager David Franke said. ``They've done everything we've asked them to do. Everything is positive about them, and a couple of them are still living in a hotel, too. If they hadn't been able to do it, we would have had to bring somebody else in. They've been an important part of the team.''

It's not easy coming onto a team that is playing 15 games in 24 days and trying to figure out how you are supposed to play. Because the Komets lacked practice time, coach Al Sims sometimes handed a stack of paper to a new player to help explain the Komets' systems.

``I came in and it was pretty quick,'' Wheeler said. ``The guys were pretty good and made it easy on me to just come in and work hard and try to make the right plays. I just go out and I work hard. It's coming easier. The game is so fast, you just make the first decision and move the puck up the ice. I have a good 'D' partner and we talk a lot out there.''

The best thing for all three players is that they've played often enough and long enough with the Komets that the game is starting to slow down for them. It helped that Hoban and Dunbar were both part of the Komets' training camp.

``You come into camp, and you don't really know what to expect,'' Hoban said. ``The second time you are more comfortable and confident with the puck. I know what to expect and what my goal is and what I have to do. It just gets easier with each game and every practice.''

The hard part is they have to earn their spot every day in practices or games. They realize they will likely be the first players let go if someone better comes back from injury or transaction.

``You never want to get too comfortable,'' Dunbar said. ``Every day is a new day, so just do your best. When things are asked of you, just do those things. There's a fine line because you want to be confident with the puck, but it's important never to get complacent.''