FORT WAYNE – Komets goaltender Nick Boucher looked out at the ice, where teammate Jean-Michel Rizk was one of the last players still practicing.
He’s a stud, Boucher said. He’s (like) a guy I played with at Dartmouth, Lee Stempniak.
That’s pretty high praise, considering Stempniak has skated the last eight seasons in the NHL, scoring 27 goals one season with St. Louis.
(Rizk) always moves his feet, said Boucher, who was selected as the CHL’s Goaltender of the Month on Thursday. The hockey term is overspeed.’ Guys will continually be moving their feet and are never gliding. If you watch J.M., when he gets the puck, there’s not a lot of times when you won’t see him crossing over or moving his feet. That’s really what creates space for him. When he’s coming into the (offensive) zone, he’s backing the defense off. And he’s got a real quick (shot) release.
Rizk, 25, is just a rookie. So maybe he doesn’t have a full appreciation for what he’s been doing and can do at the professional level.
Told what Boucher had analyzed about his feet, Rizk said: Wow, I think that’s the first time I’ve heard that about myself. It is one thing I have been working on this year, though, especially talking with (captain Colin Chaulk). Every day, he tells me, As a centerman, especially at the pro level, you always have to move your feet or you are going to get beat.’ I had to learn in the hard way. The first few games, I had a minus (rating) because I wasn’t doing that in the defensive zone.
Rizk has 10 goals, three assists and a plus-4 rating in 18 games for the Komets, who are tied for the CHL lead at 20-8-1 heading into three games in as many days against Dayton (11-13-6).
I’ve been fortunate that the puck’s been going in, but for a guy like me, I don’t try to equate success with points because that’s not really the game I play, said Rizk, who added he has to stay defensively responsible before worrying about scoring.
Rizk plays on the third line – Chaulk and Brett Smith center the top two lines – but has been getting more playing time than he thought he would when his college coach, Greg Puhalski, recommended Fort Wayne. Puhalski coached the Komets from 2000 to 2006, winning the UHL championship in 2003, and earned a reputation as being demanding.
I hear he’s even worse now, Rizk said with a chuckle. Now he can’t trade guys, so he conditions them the way he wants them.
With 271 victories, Puhalski, known as Chief, ranks second all-time for the Komets behind current coach Al Sims (384). He coached Rizk at Wilfrid Laurier University – Puhalski’s alma mater – where Rizk tallied 64 goals and 131 points in 98 games.
Chief talked Fort Wayne up big time. He said it was a great place to play and a great place to learn, said Rizk, a native of Dunham, Ontario. One thing I wasn’t able to do at the university level, I think, was grow a little bit more. With Chief, I did, and I learned a lot of things, but I couldn’t put into practice what he was teaching me because of the level we were playing. With what he gave me and what I’m getting from (Sims) and the older guys here, I think I have grown and will keep growing as a player now.