Ten questions facing the Komets heading into training camp
For the 66th consecutive year, the Fort Wayne Komets are heading into training camp with a team meeting Sunday night followed by a media luncheon on Monday. They’ll go on the Memorial Coliseum ice for the first time at about 2:30 p.m. as they prepare for exhibition games on Friday at Indy and on Oct. 7 and 9 at home against Indy and Kalamazoo.
Then they have a week to get ready for the home-opener on Oct. 14 against arch-rival Toledo, who knocked the Komets out of the playoffs last spring. There are 23 players on the preseason, so that’s a lot to get through in two weeks.
Here are 10 questions facing the Komets heading into camp.
1. Who are the familiar faces coming back?
The Komets are bringing 12 players back from last year’s team, but there was a defined plan on who came back, and it really didn’t have a lot to do with who put up great statistics. The Komets signed Jason Binkley, Mason Baptista, Taylor Crunk, Curtis Leonard, Gabriel Desjardins, Garrett Bartus and Ryan Lowney early — or all the guys who were in the middle of all those comebacks last season providing constant effort and consistent production. They were also the players who improved the most last season.
2. But who else will fans recognize?
The leadership core of Jamie Schaafsma, Shawn Szydlowski, Cody Sol and Garrett Thompson are also back, along with Bobby Shea who battled injuries throughout last season. He’s 100 percent now.
3. Who’s in American Hockey League training camps and when will they show up?
Sol, Desjardins and Dennis Krachenko are tryout out with Tucson, Shea is with San Diego, Binkley is with Iowa and rookie goaltender Alex Sakellaropoulos and Leonard are with the Chicago Wolves. There’s never a definite deadline for them to return, but usually it’s around Wednesday of the first week, or, if they perform very well, Monday or Tuesday of the second week.
4. What about the Komets new AHL affiliation?
The Komets signed a one-year deal with the Tucson Roadrunners and the Arizona Coyotes over the summer, and they are talking about possibly receiving two forwards, two defensemen and a goaltender from the Roadrunners. That is not definite, though, and the numbers could change at any moment. As the Komets found out two seasons ago during an affiliation with San Antonio/Colorado, nothing is ever definitive with an affiliation when you are the low man. However, the Komets feel more comfortable with the Tucson front office and hope their roster won’t get ransacked like it did at times two years ago. It would be nice to see the Komets find a potential long-term partner they could grow with.
5. Who are some of the potential players the Komets could get from Tucson?
Former Komet Trevor Cheek is on a two-way deal with the Roadrunners as are defenseman Kevin Ekman-Larsson, left wing Scott Allen and defenseman Ryan Culkin. Michael Houser could end up being the goaltender in the deal.
6. Who are the top free agents the Komets have signed over the summer?
The biggest is obviously center Justin Hodgman who helped the Komets win three titles when he was age 19-21. He’s mostly played in Europe since but is excited to play in front of his family this season. They also acquired right wing Ralph Cuddemi, center Dennis Kravchenko and defenseman Mitch Nylen in trades. It’s also easy sometimes to overlook lesser-renowned players such as defenseman Brad Bourke, center Tyson Fawcett, defenseman Blake Thompson, goaltender Sean Bonar and center Stephen Pierog, but the Komets have done a great job of finding lots of talent from players like these over the last four seasons under Gary Graham. That’s how the Komets found such players as Kyle Thomas, Baptista, Leonard, Bartus and Binkley. Everyone gets a fair shot, and just because some will get cut now, doesn’t mean they won’t show up later and play a vital roll.
7. Now that Kyle Thomas has signed an AHL deal, who’s the next up-and-coming player to keep an eye on?
Playing in the ECHL is always about developing players so they can move up. Hodgman, who has played five games in the NHL, is the obvious choice here, but maybe Desjardins could be the player who could surprise everyone with a big year. He’ll get to start playing on a line with Hodgman and Szydlowski, and he’s already got 21 AHL games on his resume. The knock against him has always been his lack of offense, but he scored 20 goals last year. Graham has confidence in Desjardins and thinks he’s capable of scoring 30 this season.
8. OK, who is somebody else who could have a break-out season?
Last year Binkley ranked 10th among ECHL defensemen with 44 points. He’s capable of adding 20 points to that and ranking among the league leaders. Here’s another one: Kravchenko should be a capable replacement for team Most Valuable Player Mike Cazzola who went to play and in Scotland. Kravchenko was a point-per-game last year as a rookie and should improve this season. Look for him to challenge for an all-league spot.
9. What new rules are there in the game?
Be prepared to hear a lot more fools in the stands yelling, “Drop the puck!” The NHL is emphasizing more faceoff violations this season (meaning be stationary with your stick on the ice when the linesman says “Set! Set!”). The first offending player will be kicked out of the circle, but if the player who replaces him violates the positioning he could receive a two-minute bench penalty. The league is simply trying to make faceoffs more uniform because, frankly, every forward tries to cheat on them.
Hockey is also placing more emphasis on slashing calls so be prepared for more calls.
Players, and fans, should remember that complaining about these infractions won’t matter or make any difference. Get used to them, and give the linesmen a break because they are just trying to follow their instructions.
10. What’s new and different at Memorial Coliseum?
Well, the biggest thing, and the most-important to Komets fans, will be the naming of the driveway in front of the ticket office after late broadcaster Bob Chase. There will be a ceremony at 11:30 a.m. Monday.
For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at @blakesebring, at his blog tailingthekomets.com and on Facebook at Blake Sebring.