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Rookie defenseman Mitch Nylen has come a long way

No matter how his tryout in the Fort Wayne Komets training camp works out, Mitch Nylen has already achieved more in hockey than most would have expected.

Though he was born in South Holland, Ill., the rookie defenseman moved to Georgia with his family when he was 3. His father had worked at a Chicago-area ice rink for two decades and moved to Atlanta to help building the Atlanta Thrashers new rink and then serve as its general manager.

Nylen fell in love with hockey, and was the first skater on the ice during the Thrashers’ first-ever home game. The only problem was, like most players in Canada, he knew he’d have to move away from the South to have a chance to achieving a college scholarship. He played three years at a prep school in North Andover, Mass., before playing college hockey at Sacred Heart.

“Moved away from home at 16 which was weird at first,” Nylen said. “The first semester of school was rough because I was used to parents telling me to get on your homework and stuff like that, and when you don’t have that constant there telling you what to do, you have to grow up fast. I’d do it again in a heartbeat because I met a lot of great people.”

Nylen played four years at Sacred Heart, becoming the team captain and a Hobey Baker Award nominee.

“He was a two-year captain at Sacred Heart, a really good skating, puck moving defenseman,” Komets coach Gary Graham said a month ago when Nylen’s signing was announced. “He’s a hard-working kid who sees the ice well and plays a good all-around game.”

Graham already has a pretty good idea of Nylen’s capabilities after he played two regular-season and two playoff games last year with South Carolina after his eligibility was completed at Sacred Heart.

“It gives me a little bit of confidence, just knowing the speed of play, just getting a couple of games under me so when we go into exhibition games it’s not total nerves,” Nylen said. “I know the pace so I can start thinking about other things rather than just worrying about how to catch up.”

He’ll likely get his first chance at 6:30 p.m. Friday in Indianapolis as the Komets’ rookies take on the Fuel.

Third day of camp

The Komets had their first scrimmage Wednesday morning, and while it came after a 90-minute practice, no one looked out of place.

“Each day the pace is picking up,” Komets coach Gary Graham said. “Guys are getting more familiar, you can start hearing more guys talking on the ice which is really good. The goalie competition with Mike Houser getting sent here has really picked up. There’s a sense of urgency there in net, and we’re doing everything we can to keep all four goalies involved in practice to make sure they are getting their reps and their shots. In the scrimmage, you see some bad summer habits and some good things. We filmed it and we’re going to have to look at the video here and cut some things up and show some guys some things in the morning.”

As for who looked good so far, Dennis Kravchenko, Cody Sol and Gabriel Desjardins both look strong after their stints in training camp with Tucson of the American Hockey League. Graham said captain Jamie Schaafsma is in the best shape of his Fort Wayne tenure, and Shawn Szydlowski is stepping up as a leader.

“There’s a lot of speed from Tyson Fawcett, Kravchenko and Desjardings,” Graham said. “I really like the way (Mason) Baptista, (Taylor) Crunk and (Ralph) Cuddemi are all skating and competing and shooting the puck. There’s really nobody who looks out of place. Defensively, I think we are definitely a better skating D-core than we had last year, but we need to be as good defensively in our own end and there are somethings right now we need to get addressed. We’re not as physical as we need to be, and again it’s training camp and we aren’t going to go out there and beat the crap out of each other, but we need to get into that mindset of being more physical and that will help us out.”

By the end of the scrimmage, when everyone’s legs were lead, several defensemen got breakaways for shots on goal.

“I just want to go fast,” Graham said. “We practiced very fast. I want the guys to get used to playing fast so we practiced fast and it could be a little bit of an adjustment for some players. We have enough guys, four forward lines and nine defensemen.”

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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