Komets coach Gary Graham has had the job for a week and a half, but that's meant a lot of late nights calling the West Coast and watching videos of last season's Fort Wayne games.
News-Sentinel: What's the first week been like?
Gary Graham: It's all about networking and building good relationships with agents and coaches and making sure we get out our new philosophy, our new identity moving forward as an organization and what it's going to be out there. This is a developmental league. These players coming out of Division I college and Canadian university want to know that the organization has that as a top priority for them moving forward. I've met a lot of contacts since the press conference and a lot of good things are moving in the right direction.
NS: What do you say to all the Komets fans who just don't know you?
GG: Come up and introduce yourselves to me. I'm a pretty easygoing guy. I've grown up in this town so I know a lot of people. As an assistant coach, it really wasn't my job for people to know a whole lot about me. I was the behind-the-scenes type of guy, and I was OK with that, but now I need to get out there in the community and I want to get involved in special events, especially charity events and I want to get out into the schools. I want to make sure moving forward that as the face behind the bench that people know who I am and what I stand for.
NS: What are your thoughts about getting an assistant coach?
I think it's still early in the process to talk about that. When I was an assistant coach, we never talked about it until August. The focus moving forward is completely on recruitment and relationship building and what we have to do to make sure our training camp is as competitive as possible. As the summer progresses, those discussions will probably heat up on what's to happen with that position, but right now it's too early to talk about.
NS: So you definitely want one?
I'm open to either or. The one thing as an assistant coach I did all the video and preparation. I really feel that is one of the strongest things I bring to the table. I've seen coaches have success with a one-man show or some teams have as many as three coaches. It's got to be something that is the right situation, and that will get addressed later on.
NS: How many affiliations do you think the Komets need?
GG: It's important to me as a coach. As the organization moves forward here, I think a lot of things will come to clarity after the NHL draft and the meetings they have. Everybody learned a lot from this last season. I think everybody knows we want this to go well next year. As I network with agents and coaches, it's something I get asked about a lot. The one thing no matter what happens with the affiliation, my goal is to make sure that coaches, players and agents know that I am all about developing my guys and making sure I provide opportunities. Our two best players last year didn't go to Norfolk, they went to Bridgeport and Lake Erie. That's something we can be proud of as an organization.
If a player is doing good next year, he's going to get not only the affiliation's attention, but he's going to get a lot of attention. That's not necessarily a bad thing. That's what we're all about here. It's important that we always have the next group of players to bring in because the cards are always changing. You have to make sure throughout the year that you always have that contingency plan. You have to be scouting the single-A level, and know what are the type of players you can bring up and have success. In training camp we'll have some of those guys here, and we'll be build strong relationships with coaches like Brian Gratz in Bloomington and whoever is the new coach in Pensacola.
NS: How do you feel about the hypothesis that it doesn't matter what ECHL teams do for themselves because they are at the mercy of their AHL affiliates?
GG: I'm big on I can only control what I can control. At any given time, whatever guys I have on my roster my total focus is on making those parts be the best sum of all parts. That's what the name of the game is at this level. Every team has the same set of problems every year in the ECHL. You're going to go through that adversity. Every team has to deal with it, and the only way I know how to deal with that is to be prepared for it. That comes down to those solid relationships you have. It was a loose affiliation with us last year, but we knew if Fort Wayne needed something, we've be there for them.
NS: What kind of style do you want the Komets to play?
GG: We're just going to be a gritty, greasy, up-tempo, puck-possession team. The biggest thing is we're going to play with a huge heartbeat. There's going to be passion and enthusiasm in everything we do. There won't be anything we do that is not a direct reflection of how we practice. Things we do in practice will be extremely detailed and that will correlate to what we do on the ice. Most important, we need puck-moving D-men, defensemen who can skate and move the puck quickly, and most importantly get up with the rush. We have a great big ice surface, and we need to build a team that knows how to skate, that knows how to maximize our puck-possession time. I expect to get offense from my blue line, and we will get offense from my blue line.
NS: So you're going to build from the blue line out?
GG: The center position is the most key to me right now. With Brett Smith signing with (Brampton), and Colin Chaulk retiring, we have to focus on rebuilding the core leadership of this team as well as down the middle.
NS: What do you look for in a captain?
GG: There are leadership values you can go out and find. There's a lot of research to be done on guys. The first thing is you look within yourself at the positives within the organization. There are some bright spots in this organization. It wasn't all bad. When I take a look at the film from last year, I'm seeing consistency from certain players and there will be some familiar faces back on this team, and I'm happy with that. We have to rebuild the leadership core, and that's going to be a challenge, but we do have some pieces for that already here.
NS: How much do your systems resemble what Al Sims used?
GG: Some of it is the same, but it's going to be a lot higher tempo, more puck possession, more off the rush and less dump and chase. I really think that our rink favors more of a puck-possession style. When you get the wide zones that we have, you really have a lot of ability to do some things and attack the offensive blue line and open those loose gaps. I want to really own that puck. There will be time when we have the chip and chase, but for the most part we're going to pride ourselves for having the puck on our sticks and making plays. We're going to consistently get to the net. That's something that is going to be a focus for us. We were way too perimeter last year, and it's going to start with basic habits that we are going to teach over and over and over in practice. I'll blow a drill down again over and over until it gets right. You're not going to get anything to happen in a game unless you make it a habit in practice.
It's just the details of everything we do that will be emphasized. We're coming to work to practice every day to get better mentally and physically.
NS: What connections do you have for recruiting?
GG: I have a lot of contacts. I'm already working all those contacts, but you have to build off of those. A lot of the players that I've worked with in Fort Wayne and the people they know are part of that. When you do things the right way, which I've done, people want to help you. That's the greatest thing...
The biggest thing on the recruitment side is the majority of players have representation, which is agents. Agents are just like anybody in the business world. They are putting their clients out to anybody. Now at that point, everybody is on the same ground when it comes to getting players. We all know who is on the list. Then it's not necessarily about the player, but the relationship you build with the agent. Agents love talking to me because they know I have been in business my whole life and I'm not just some hockey guy. I get their attention right away. We get a relationship right away so that this guy understands I'm about player promotion, I'm about opening up doors, but most importantly he understands his player is going to come to me and get better. That's what I've been selling since Tuesday's (June 4) press conference.
Being a coach is about being a man who wears many hats, just like in business. It comes down to relationships. I think the thing my players like the most about me is that I hold them accountable, but they also know they can come to me and talk to me about anything.
NS: How much difference does it make that you know the organization?
GG: It's a big difference. The Komet organization is a very special one, the history and the way the Franke family takes care of their business and the way they handle things in the community and their corporate sponsorships. I know a lot of those people already and have relationships with them. The fact that I would like to get out in the community and meet people. That fact that I'm from this community and I appreciate everything they do for the Komets' organization, youth hockey, I'm at that rink all the time with my son, and I'm in that network and I care about that network and I'm accessible there. I'm committed to working with high school hockey coaches because I come from that network. I like people to come to Canlan to watch practice. I think that's great. I don't mind coaches wanting to pick my brain. I love teaching and I wish when I was doing that there would have been somebody around who would have done that with me. I'd love to be able to share the things I've been studying and learning.