For just the second time in the franchise's 62-year history, the Fort Wayne Komets have traded their captain. The Komets sent captain Nick Tuzzolino to Elmira on Monday afternoon for defenseman Jordon Southorn. The team also placed forward Matt Firman on waivers and announced newly acquired forward Brett Lyon has been suspended after quitting the team.
It's the first time the Komets have traded their captain since Craig Duncanson during the 1996-97 season. Tuzzolino, 27, had struggled this season with a goal and seven points in 13 games and an ECHL-worst minus-17 plus-minus rating, which measures a player's productivity on the ice when teams are at equal strength.
``It's a shame the way things worked out,'' Tuzzolino said. ``It wasn't what both parties had intended. There's a lot more season left.''
After Tuzzolino was minus-6 during Friday and Saturday's home games, Komets coach Gary Graham left the defenseman at home for Sunday's game at Evansville.
Asked whether he's bitter about how the situation worked out, Tuzzolino said, ``No, not at all. Gary's back is against the ropes, too. He has to produce and make a move, and I was that move.''
Why did he struggle so much?
``I'm not totally sure. Call it luck, call it a bad play, whatever one. It wasn't one thing; there's a bunch of little contributing factors.
``I just want to thank everybody, and we'll see each other again in a couple of weeks.''
The Komets play at Elmira on Dec. 6.
``As for me as a coach, these are those things that really weigh on your shoulders,'' Graham said. ``I take a lot of pride in getting the best out of my players. You want to have a player have success and the team have success. Right now with Nick those things aren't happening. There's definitely a level of responsibility on my shoulders with that. This isn't about Nick, this is about the team and moving into a direction where accountability is going to be a focal point. We need guys buying in and understanding the culture we are trying to create.''
Southorn, 23, is a fourth-year pro who skated three games with Elmira this season. Last year he posted career highs with 11 goals, 34 points and a plus-27 rating in 64 games. A former fourth-round draft pick by the Buffalo Sabres, he has played two American Hockey League games and will be in the lineup Thursday when the Komets face Florida.
``I think this is a deal that's going to benefit both teams and both players,'' Komets General Manager David Franke said. ``It didn't work out for us, and it really didn't work out for Nick. This way, he'll be very much closer to home in Buffalo.''
Graham said he's not going to name a captain immediately but will name another alternate captain along with Brandon Marino and Kaleigh Schrock before Thursday's game.
``The plan is not to be in a rush mode for this,'' Graham said. ``As of right now, the plan for these next three games is I want to see leadership rise to the top. I want to see it through play, through practice and how guys respond this week. It's going to be a calculated decision.''
After scoring 14 goals and 30 points last year to be named the Komets' Rookie of the Year, Firman has struggled to get started in limited ice time with no goals, no points and no penalty minutes in 11 games. Lyon played three games over the weekend, earning 19 penalty minutes.
As for Lyon, Graham and Franke said the player wanted a more active role on the forward lines.
``Brett was one of those guys in a short amount of time he decided that he wants to be more than just a physical guy,'' Graham said. ``He sees himself as a playmaker, too. Given more time here in the system we might have been able to see that in him, but right now we don't have ice time for him in the top nine spots. That's what he's looking for and what he wants.''
Lyon had participated in only one regular practice since arriving late last week, and played a regular shift on Sunday in Evansville before he was kicked out halfway through the second period for removing his elbow pads to fight. By suspending him, the Komets retain his rights for a possible trade.
``I told him I needed some time to see what he can do,'' Graham said. ``You just can't throw guys out blind in what we're trying to teach. You want to put players in the best spot to be successful, and that's what I was trying to communicate with Brett. I think he made a rash decision. He wants something that I can't give him right now.''
The Komets are expecting forward Shawn Szydlowski to be able to play Thursday after struggling with a sports hernia, and they have some hope defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin might be ready to play after missing several weeks with a concussion.