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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Colin Chaulk (right) won four playoff championships and four team MVP trophies with the Komets between 2002 and 2010.

Chaulk’s back, and he comes with pressure

The Komets’ 59-year history is littered with many terrific leaders, including Eddie Long, Len Thornson, Dale Baldwin and Colin Chin.

Colin Chaulk is often referred to as the greatest leader of the bunch, thanks to the four playoff championships and four team MVP trophies he earned between 2002 and 2010.

When he returns to the lineup tonight at Memorial Coliseum, it will begin the single most unfair scenario in franchise history, one in which he is expected by the fans to almost single-handedly morph the Komets back into championship contenders.

If he’s able to pull off the feat, it will validate his lore as a hockey god in Fort Wayne. If he fails, one can only hope that history remembers what was asked of him was unrealistic.

“We can’t expect him to do this on his own,” forward Sean O’Connor said. “He’s a terrific presence, an amazing player, but there are a lot of guys in this (locker) room, and we all have to perform.”

What makes Chaulk a great leader is his willingness to speak up in the locker room, regardless of whether it will bruise egos, then go out on the ice and do exactly what he preached. The Komets have been missing that kind of compass.

Defenseman Guy Dupuis, who was stripped of his captaincy Dec. 14, leads by example, which he does as well as anyone, but he’s not fiery. Others have tried and failed to step up and lead.

The Komets are 9-15-3, worst among the Central Hockey League’s 18 teams. They are on a 4-0-2 streak, which takes some of the pressure off. But they lack consistency; they are 5-5-2 when leading or tied after two periods. They lack offensive determination; their 2.52 goals per game ranks last. And their defense has been surprisingly spotty; they rank 10th with 3.37 goals against per game.

Chaulk, 34, is a feisty and dynamic two-way presence who will make Fort Wayne better in all areas. He has 150 goals and 561 points in 461 games with Fort Wayne, and he’s won league-wide outstanding defensive forward awards four times.

However, with HC Alleghe in Italy, the team he left after 26 games to return to Fort Wayne, he had only four goals and 19 points and had been relegated to a lesser role than expected. It’s possible he will suffer the same adjustment problems the rest of the Komets did in transitioning from the International Hockey League to the CHL.

“We’ve got a lot of options now, up front, with him coming back,” said Komets coach Al Sims, who announced Thursday that Chaulk was named captain. “The biggest thing is the leadership role. It’s been his team the last three years, and it will become his team again.”

It would be unreasonable to expect anyone, even Sidney Crosby, to come in halfway through a season, join six players he’s never skated with before and magically incite them to greatness by his mere presence.

Of course, how many people thought Chaulk would resurrect his career after losing much of 2008-09 to a staph infection? How many thought he would guide the Komets to four Cups? How many thought he would ever be mentioned in the same breath as Long or Chin?

“I’ve just got to play my game,” Chaulk said.

“I always feel pressure. I always feel pressure to produce, to contribute every night, and when you don’t and the team loses you feel like you’ve let yourself and your teammates down and the coaching staff. But if you’re any kind of competitor, you feel pressure to do well every night and every shift. It’s just part of the business.”

Justin A. Cohn is a writer for The Journal Gazette and has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1997. He can be reached by e-mail jcohn@jg.net; phone, 461-8429; or fax 461-8648; or to discuss this column or others he has written recently, go to the "Sports" topic of "The Board" at www.journalgazette.net.

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