Throughout last summer, the Fort Wayne Komets talked about their belief that Class AA minor league hockey was the same caliber and quality no matter which league it was played in.
How do the players feel after their first season in the ECHL? How would this Komets team have fared in the Central Hockey League where Fort Wayne won the championship last spring?
``I believe this league is a little bit better because the goaltending is better and the depth, but I still believe AA is AA,'' center Brett Smith said at the Komets' season-ending party and jersey auction Tuesday night. ``The hockey isn't a whole lot different, but the depth is a little bit better. In the CHL the style of game is a little bit more controlled, while this is quicker.''
Maybe that's because there are more younger players in the ECHL and more veterans in the CHL.
``I think the goaltending is better and guys work a little bit harder every night in the ECHL,'' forward Kaleigh Schrock said. ``When you have the chance to go to the next level, there's more incentive to work harder every night. It's still AA hockey, but the goaltending is better and the players are a little bit hungrier and the speed is better. In the CHL, it was slower and more about controlling the puck, and the ECHL was a lot more like college hockey and run and gun.''
Most of the players said they didn't think this Komets team, which didn't make the ECHL playoffs, would have fared any better in the CHL this season.
``We had a lot of young guys who had a lot to learn,'' center J.M. Rizk said. ``I don't think you can really compare this year to last year's teams with all the veterans we had last year.''
Thomas Beauregard, whose Wichita team the Komets beat in last year's President Cup Finals in the CHL, also didn't think this team would have had a much better record this year in the CHL.
``It was just a bad year in general, just a year you want to forget,'' Beauregard said.
Charlie Effinger also played against the Komets in the playoffs last year with Missouri. He and the Mavericks fought the Komets through seven games in the semifinals.
``I know last year's team that we played against was a good team,'' Effinger said. ``That group really bought in, and you could sense it when we played against them. They were all on the same page.
``There was a lot of good players here this year. Were they healthy? Not always.
Did they get called up and down? We struggled to put it together, and I don't know how that would have translated to the Central League. It just didn't come together like we'd have liked it to.''
Maybe the biggest difference between the leagues is in the definition.
``I think AA hockey is AA hockey, but there's youth and speed in this league and the CHL is more veterans and established players who have played well in this league already and maybe have moved on in their careers,'' defenseman Jamie Milam said. ``I feel like anybody who plays in the CHL can play in this league, but this is just the developmental league so you get younger players. The reason you play in the coast is to go to the next level, and in the CHL you are there to play in one place.''