As each Komets training camp approaches, fans anticipate seeing something new to provide hope for the season, but the biggest question this year is, what's not different?
There's a new coach, new players, new leaders and there's no strong affiliation with an American Hockey League team. There's even a few new things at Memorial Coliseum. That's a lot to change in one summer, but new coach Gary Graham thinks he can pull everyone together quickly. He'll have to after the team missed the playoffs last year.
``These guys coming in don't know any of that,'' Graham said. ``These guys are young, and they don't care what happened last year. All they care about is this year, and that's the way it should be.''
The Komets added two more forwards to the roster on Friday, forwards Tristan King and Paul McIlveen. King has been assigned to the Komets by the Dallas Stars, and McIlveen has signed a tryout agreement. Both should provide solid offensive numbers this season.
Camp starts Sunday with a two morning practices before an afternoon scrimmage at Memorial Coliseum. The first exhibition game is Wednesday in Wheeling followed by Friday at Kalamazoo. The only home exhibition game is Saturday against Wheeling.
The Komets' 62nd regular season starts Oct. 19 against Toledo, but there's a lot of things to get through before that.
Here's 10 questions facing the Komets:
1. So, what's different this year?
Literally everything. Komets cornerstones coach Al Sims, Colin Chaulk, Nick Boucher, Brett Smith, J.M. Rizk and trainer Sean Dundon are all gone. The only returning players are Kaleigh Schrock, Brandon Marino, Matt Firman, John Dunbar (17 games), Jeremy Gates (17 games) and Chris Auger (4 games because of injury). Management wanted to start over and almost everyone from last year's 33-35-4 team that missed the playoffs has moved on.
2. Who's in charge of putting everything together?
Former Komets assistant Gary Graham came in and retooled the roster to be bigger on defense and faster over every part of the ice. He looked for younger players he convinced to give him a chance so he could try to get them another chance at the AHL. Consequently, this year's roster is two years younger per player than last year. The 2012-12 Komets had 11 players age 27 or older, and this squad currently has five. Schrock, the oldest player, turns 29 on Oct. 17. The roster is also about 10 pounds heavier per man.
3. Who are the ``name'' players the Komets have signed?
The biggest signing is likely goaltender John Muse who won the ECHL's Kelly Cup two years ago with Florida and won an NCAA title with Boston College in 2010. Then there's defenseman Nick Tuzzolino, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound force on the blueline and a second-team ECHL all-star. Center Mickey Lang scored 41 goals and 83 points with Quad City in the Central Hockey League.
4. How much bigger is the defense?
If this unit posed for a picture standing in front of last year's squad, last year's defensemen would be mostly invisible with five players 6-foot or shorter and 205 pounds or lighter. This year's defense has five players 6-2 or taller and only one player weighs less than 200 pounds. Simon Danis-Pepin is 6-7, 240 pounds, and Tuzzolino and Nick Pokulok are both 6-5, 225 pounds. Graham likes their size and, maybe more importantly, their skating ability.
5. Who are the hot rookies?
Former Michigan State player Kevin Walrod and Scott Fleming are the only rookies among the forwards, and Fleming has basically played six games the last two years as he tried civilian life for a while. Ask Graham the signings he's most proud of from this summer, and he'll say the rookie defensemen because they all come from great college programs, and lots of teams wanted them. Pokulok, Kyle Follmer, Joe Hartman and Drew Olson are a little green, but they all have outstanding potential to improve throughout the season.
6. Who's going to be the biggest surprise?
There actually might be a few, but at 5-11, 202 pounds, Follmer is the smallest defenseman, but he's the diamond in the rough with the most to prove and the highest ceiling. He's fast, a good puck-handler, is good defensively and offensively and he's also got some mean to his game. He doesn't back down to anyone. It'll take about five games for Fort Wayne fans to love this kid.
If it's not Follmer, it'll be center Scott Fleming who is coming back after not playing for almost two years. He's got some amazing hands.
7. Last year the power play was awful. Will it be any better?
It should be. Along with looking for size and speed, Graham also targeted skaters with good power-play numbers such as Tuzzolino, Rob Kwiet, Lang and Bobby Hughes. The coach thinks the power play can generate as many as 20 more goals than last year which would put the Komets near the top in the overall average scoring. That many more goals last year could have meant as many as 10 more wins.
8. What good will they do if there's no one screening in front of the net?
Guess what one of the top priorities will be for Graham in training camp. That was a huge problem for last year's team, something Graham spotted immediately when he watched the film. Because of the Memorial Coliseum's deep corners, it's easy for forwards to hang back on the perimeter. From the first day of practice, Graham is going to present drills that put plenty of movement in front of the net before shots and crashing after them. Expect this power to to move the puck and bodies, forcing the defense to continually adjust.
9. Who's going to be the team's captain?
No one knows yet, which is exactly how Graham is planning it. He wants to see who is going to earn the ``C'' by their actions on and off the ice. There are plenty of candidates such as Auger, Schrock, Marino, Tuzzolino and Danis-Pepin. No matter who gets the job, Graham is already using a leadership council to get input from players. Any player, no matter their experience, is free to talk to the coach at any time. Don't be surprised if the Komets start the season with three players wearing an ``A'' as assistant captain.
10. What will the fans notice that's different about the Memorial Coliseum?
Plenty of changes there, too. The top of the dasher boards will be colored black and the kickboard around the ice will be orange. There's also a new glass system with wider acrylic panels, making it easier for fans sitting down low to watch the game. There are also major upgrades for some of the bathrooms and concession areas on the second floor. The first floor will get some of the same rehabilitation next summer. The Komets are also promising to refresh their game presentation.