Komets’ Garrett Thompson is rolling through career-best season

Komets forward Garrett Thompson watches as his slap shot hits the left corner of the Quad City net for his second goal of the first period Saturday night. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)

The Fort Wayne Komets are playing so well right now, an interesting debate could be which one is playing the best?

It may not be the one you’d think of first.

Shawn Szydlowski leads the ECHL in scoring, Mason Baptista is among the league’s most-improved players, Ryan Lowney is a Rookie of the Year candidate and Bobby Shea is playing as well as any defenseman in the league. Marco-Olivier Roy, Trevor Cheek and Ryan Culkin look like they should still be in the AHL, and Gabriel Desjardins and Justin Hodgman are a threat to score on every shift.

But right now the hottest Komet, and arguably the most-consistent over the last month with four goals and 14 points in nine games, has been left wing Garrett Thompson. Last week’s ECHL Player of the Week shredded Quad City goaltender C.J. Motte’s forcefield in the first period for two goals Saturday night and made sure he would not have a repeat of last week’s 60-save game.

With 23 goals and 56 points in 48 games, Thompson has put together a career-best season and has climbed to third among ECHL scoring leaders. It’s been a little underappreciated, maybe because Thompson hasn’t had a hot streak with a torrent of goals but because he’s been so steady. He scores a lot of dirty goals in front of the opposing goal off deflections and rebounds, but this year he’s been getting more scores from distance, utilizing his skating and forechecking ability to help set up Szydlowski and Baptista. He’s shown a much more consistent all-around game and probably deserves an American Hockey League call-up.

“Garrett played great last year, just maybe he didn’t get the bounces,” Komets coach Gary Graham said. “I remember talking to you guys in the playoffs last year that he was maybe our best player but it wasn’t showing up on the statsheet. He was giving us something every game but was a little bit snakebit here or there. This year he’s making the most of his chances. He’s playing with pretty much the same line which has given him some cohesion with Szyd and Baps. The more minutes I give him, the better he plays.”

While many of the Komets have battled the flu and minor injuries over the past few weeks, Thompson just shows up every night and scores two points, plays solid defense and creates trouble with his size in front of the opposing net. He mainly does the little things that make others look good by creating mismatches and scoring opportunities for them.

“I feel like our team is in a really good groove right now so everybody is having a really good night almost every night,” Thompson said. “It’s literally down the line of who’s night it is. I don’t know if that’s match-ups or the way the puck bounces.

“Gary has been telling us to focus a little more on our defense and when guys play the right way and you are working hard, things come your way, too.

I know a big thing is I came into this year with a lot of confidence after last season, and it’s rolling into games and helping me out.”

The Komets, who are 14-1-1 over their last 16 games and 29-8-1 since Nov. 17, are off until Friday when Fort Wayne-native Brian Gratz brings his Greenville Swamp Rabbits to two for a pair of games. Fort Wayne is 8-0-1 in February with three games to go.

Because Toledo lost 4-3 at Quad City on Sunday, the Komets maintain a one-point lead in the ECHL’s Central Division. Florida won 3-2 at Kansas City on Sunday to pull two points ahead of the Komets for the overall league lead. Both teams have 21 games remaining in the regular season.