Just like all Komets fans, Colin Chaulk has been wondering when he'll be able to return to the lineup. The veteran center and team captain skated hard the last three days in practice and is shooting to play next week.
Chaulk, 36, has missed the last 32 games with a shoulder injury and then a foot infection. He has served part of that time behind the bench as assistant coach.
``It feels good,'' Chaulk said. ``I had some stuff with my left arm, but my foot feels pretty good. There's still some swelling after skating, but it's all closed up and there's very, very little pain. I'm not 100 percent, but I'm close. It's exciting.''
Chaulk scored 17 points in his first 19 games this season.
McNeil's project continuing
Before he lost his battle to brain cancer in January at age 79, former Komet Bobby McNeil had a pet project his family is now trying to complete.
Inspired by cancer survivor Terry Fox's epic trek across Canada in 1980, McNeil's idea was to have a poster picturing Fox and former Toronto Maple Leafs star Darryl Sittler signed by almost 200 former National Hockey League players. Then McNeil planned to auction the poster and donate the proceeds to fight cancer.
``It's been an absolute labor of love,'' said McNeil's wife, Sheila. ``He was just up and at them and raring to go for 2 1/2 years. It's too bad he's not going to see his dream come true, but we'll do it for him.''
McNeil brought the poster to Fort Wayne in 2011 to collect a few signatures, including Komets coach Al Sims. Former Chicago Blackhawk Pete Conacher suggested the idea to McNeil, who annually attended the NHL Legends Luncheon.
One of the few autographs McNeil still needed was that of Wayne Gretzky, who was attending an event in Toronto last summer. McNeil stood in line for five hours for the chance to talk to Gretzky, whom he convinced to sign.
``He came home like a kid having a birthday party,'' Sheila McNeil said.
About the only autograph missing on the poster is Mark Messier, but friends and family are working on it.
What's up, Doc?
Today is ``Favorite Jersey Day'' and LaFontaine-native Mike ``Doc'' Emrick is ready to go as he said when calling the Detroit-St. Louis game on NBC Sports Network on Wednesday night.
``I have chosen an orange spaceman Fort Wayne Komets jersey with a C on the front for captain and 11 for one of my favorite players, Len Thornson,'' Emrick said.
That's even more appropriate because Thornson has been struggling with some health issues and spent some time in a Naples, Fla., hospital this week. He went home last night, and Emrick called after Thornson asked a friend to reach out to the broadcaster. Thornson, 80, is going to be fine, especially after a boost like that.
``Favorite Jersey Day'' is part of USA Hockey's ``Hockey Weekend Across America'' which also includes ``Try Hockey Day'' on Saturday and ``Celebrate Local Hockey Heroes'' on Sunday, which is also appropriate because of the Komet Legends game at Toledo starting at 2 p.m.
The Komet Legends practiced late Thursday night in preparation. Kevin Bertram, Kelly Perrault, Ron Leef, Martin Burgers, John Hilworth, Steve Fletcher, Carey Lucyk, Adam Lewis, Dan Price, Chad Dameworth, Doug Rigler, Dale Baldwin, Kelly Hurd, Doug Teskey, and Bob and Bobby Phillips are ready to take on the former Toledo players, who will include former Komets goaltender Doug Teskey. Serving behind the Fort Wayne bench as coaches will be Robbie Irons, George Drysdale, Reg Primeau and Chuck Adamson.
The current Komets will face Toledo in a regular game starting at 5 p.m.
Little experience necessary
Whether or not the players realize it, there are several who are already playing for their positions for next season. Under current ECHL rules, teams can only play four veterans per game, classified as player who started the season with more than 260 career games.
On the current roster, the Komets have Colin Chaulk (injured list), Brett Smith, Tyler Butler, Jamie Milam and Brent Henley with veteran status. Current players who are on pace to be classified as veterans next year include Thomas Beauregard, Brandon Marino, Kaleigh Schrock and Matt Syroczynski.
The ECHL and Professional Players Association announced a new collective bargaining agreement Thursday that allows teams to play five veteran skaters if one is classified as a player/assistant coach. The new agreement, which runs through June 30, 2018, also lengthens the season one week to 26 while maintaining a 72-game schedule.
500 and counting
Former Alaska Aces right wing Anthony Peluso and former Ontario Reign and Orlando Solar Bears goaltender Darcy Kuemper both made their National Hockey League debuts Wednesday, becoming the 500th and 501st players to play in the NHL after the ECHL.
“This is a significant milestone in terms of player development in the ECHL,” said Commissioner Brian McKenna in a league statement. “We are pleased to acknowledge the ever-increasing number of former ECHL players, coaches, officials and executives who have moved up to the NHL. We are particularly proud of the young players, like Anthony and Darcy and those before them, who have developed their game in the ECHL before moving to the American Hockey League and eventually the NHL.''
Peluso and Kuemper are the 10th and 11th former ECHL players who have debuted in the NHL this season.
Icing the puck
Eight times during the last 10 Komets games and the last five in a row, the opponents have scored first. ... When the Komets can score early, they are likely to win as they are 11-0-0 when leading after the first period. ... Defenseman Tyler Butler is the only Komet who has skated in all 51 games so far. ... The annual Tip-a-Komet night will be held 6:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Applebee's on North Clinton. The proceeds will go to the Vera Bradley Foundation. ... A second bus has been added to take fans to the Komets' Feb. 23 game at Toledo. The cost is $36 for transportation and a ticket to the game. Fans can reserve a spot by registering at Komet Kuarters.