For the fourth time in the last five years, former Komets assistant coach and North Side graduate Gary Graham is getting some new jewelry.
Graham coached the Pensacola Ice Flyers to the Class A Southern Professional Hockey League title earlier this week. The Pensacola team included former Komets Gerry Festa, John Dunbar, Jeremy Gates and Ron Cramer, and former Fort Wayne equipment manager Mark ``Bones'' Bradtmueller.
``We had so much adversity this year it was unreal,'' Graham said. ``We probably had 45 different guys in our locker room, but everybody who came in just bought in right away. This group had no egos, no cliques. This was the hardest-working group I've ever seen. I'd try to give them optional (practices), and they'd all show up anyway.''
The Ice Flyers finished two points out of first place during the regular season and then went 6-1 in the playoffs, which were a best-of-three format.
``The most important thing I learned in Fort Wayne is it starts from recruiting good, quality individuals,'' Graham said. ``That was a big part of our success because I've seen that work under David (Franke) and Al (Sims)."
Graham plans on returning to Fort Wayne in early May to run his Pyromaniacs fireworks company and start recruiting for next year's Pensacola team. He's also going to take time to spoil son Connor, 8, and daughter Bella, 3.
Komets are scouting
General Manager David Franke said the team has been to about eight games so far in the Central Hockey League and ECHL looking for next year's players, and plans on attending more in the second round of the playoffs. The Komets have also hired a scout who is concentrating on the CHL games.
``We're looking for guys who compete and skate well, finish their shots or bring a physical presence to the team,'' Franke said. ``We want to see how they compete from period to period.''
The Komets cannot officially sign any players until June, but they are negotiating with some, Franke said. He completed all the players' exit interviews this week.
``Next up we'll be discussing what we're going to do coaching-wise,'' Franke said. ``We should have that settled in the next two to three weeks.''
But isn't that leaving coach Al Sims dangling a little bit?
``Everybody would like to know right now, but we have to be realistic,'' Franke said. ``It's only been 2 1/2 weeks since we quit playing. We're going to need a little time to make that decision.''
Franke said he and his brothers Komets president Michael Franke and primary owner Stephen Franke would be the ones to make the decision on Sims' future.
As for potential plans for another American Hockey League affiliation, Franke said the Komets are studying the issue. He's convinced the Komets will only want one affiliation, similar to what they had this season with Norfolk.
``We're checking out all of our options that are available right now,'' he said. ``I think right now one is all I want to get involved with. I think there are enough players from one affiliation that the job can get done. If you have two affiliates, you have twice the possibility of losing players, and I don't want to get ripped off every weekend.''
Icing the puck
Former Komets Bryant Molle (Reading), Brent Henley and Mike Ratchuk (Florida), and Tom Mele (Alaska) have all advanced into the second round of the ECHL playoffs. ... By going 7-3 over its last 10 games, Norfolk has climbed to seventh in the American Hockey League's Eastern Conference playoff standings. The Admirals have a three-game road trip to finish the regular season. ... Former Komet Kenny Reiter is 0-5-2 with Bridgeport of the AHL, but he leads the Sound Tigers with a 2.52 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. ... Daniel Maggio has played 24 games with Lake Erie since getting called up from the Komets in February. The rookie defenseman has one goal and four points along with 104 penalty minutes. ... Because of building availability, Gwinnett will host the first two games of its playoff series with Cincinnati, and the remaining five games will be played in Ohio.