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Former Komet gave Ralph Cuddemi great recommendation

When Komets coach Gary Graham wanted to check out forward Ralph Cuddemi, he found the perfect person to call — former Komet Dave Smith.

Smith, now 48, played center two years in Fort Wayne, and was a scrappy part of the 1993 Turner Cup championship team and the next season when the team returned to the finals. He recently became the head coach of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, N.Y., but before that he was the head coach at Canisius College in Buffalo for 12 seasons. One of his key players was Cuddemi for four seasons ending in 2016.

“He always tried to develop the person along with the hockey player,” Cuddemi said. “I feel like that has helped me a lot and he did a lot for me as a person and a player.”

Smith loves Cuddemi, and said they developed a deeper respect than the typical player-coach relationship. He loves Cuddemi’s persistence.

“He was a believer right away,” Smith said. “It wasn’t easy for him at first. During his freshman year, I don’t think he had a goal until Christmas, and then all of a sudden we kept working and talking and then he got hot. He scored two goals in the semifinal game and then two in the championship game (as a junior). He’s a competitor.”

After scoring four goals as a freshman, Cuddemi scored 57 goals and 113 points in 117 games over his last three seasons. He was also Smith’s captain as a senior.

“He’s been told a lot places you can’t do this, you aren’t built for this or that and he has found a way,” Smith said. “Not only did he find a way to Division I hockey, he played on a good team and became a captain. He started out slow his first year in pro hockey and then he gets hot again. Who’s to tell him what he can’t do?”

After his senior year, Cuddemi played nine games in the ECHL with Florida, scoring two goals and five points. After starting last season with Florida, he moved to Utah where he scored 27 goals and 52 points in 64 games with Utah. When The Grizzlies’ American Hockey League parent club in San Diego signed Komets forward Kyle Thomas to a two-way contract this summer, the rights to Cuddemi became the cost and he was traded to Fort Wayne.

Cuddemi was surprised by the trade, informed while he was playing golf, but understands sometimes hockey is simply a business.

“I’m excited about joining a winning franchise,” he said. “I feel like everyone here is trying to move up to the next level, and I’d like to keep my career moving forward. I want to play for the team but I want to get off to a hot start and hopefully get a call-up as soon as possible and see how it goes.”

Smith said he enjoyed talking with Graham about Cuddemi was impressed the Komets coach did such extensive research.

“They really wanted Ralph, and it was exciting because I had such fond memories and good experience in Fort Wayne,” Smith said. “I hope Ralph has some of the same experiences there. He’s coachable and also stubborn. He believes in himself, and he wants to see the path to success. It won’t surprise me to see Ralph have more success because he’s hungry, hungry, hungry and you can’t teach that.”

For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at @blakesebring, at his blog tailingthekomets.com and on Facebook at Blake Sebring.

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