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Ben Smith

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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Komets defenseman David Starenky came back to the game after taking two years off.

Flying pucks sure beats moving rocks

This is why you play the game, for mornings like this one. You’ll live with the aches and pains, if you can rack a puck or two in practice and then chirp at your buds. You’ll handle the stitches and the blood and the gutless bleep who just low-bridged you from behind, and all those bus rides between Where To Now and I Got Your Mapquest Right Here.

A puck hits the glass with a loud smack now, in the refrigerator unit that is Lutheran Health Sports Center. Another goes clinking off a post. Someone laughs. Someone else calls someone a name that will never appear in a family newspaper, speaking of chirping at your buds.

And David Starenky – Komets defenseman, Calgary native, prodigal hockey son – clomps off the ice and shakes your hand and says, yeah, this is what you miss, all right, these mornings and these days and big showdown weekends like the one upcoming against Evansville, with the season down to crumbs and a division title on the line.

“There’s no secrets at all,” Starenky says of the latter. “They’re one of the best teams in the league and we’re tied with them right now, so we’ve got to come out to play, there’s no question about that.”

No question, either, that once the game gets in your blood it has its own shelf life, and you don’t get to dictate it. Starenky, 26, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 230 pounds and plays with the physicality such a frame demands, tried that after playing 16 games with Wichita in the 2006-07 season. He was out of hockey for two full years after that, working in kitchens and as a telemarketer for a cellphone company and ballooning to 255 pounds.

“What got me back into shape was, I did rock masonry for eight months,” Starenky says. “Pushing around 200-pound rocks by hand, I went from 250, 255 down to 202. At that point, I just had to come back to hockey.”

Part of it was he was back in shape. And, part of it, frankly, was that he’d come to the realization that shoving rocks around or trying to sell Joe Suburbia on the joys of unlimited texting paled in comparison to all those mornings in a cold rink.

“Nobody treats you as well as they do in this game, with the team environment and stuff like that,” Starenky says. “It’s just a lot of fun. And I thought, you know what? Rather than sitting out, I might as well come back to the game while I still can.”

Of course, that’s not the whole story. The rest, Starenky says, involves a screen door, his brother and one of those classic sibling moments.

“Truthfully?” he says, and then laughs. “Well, truthfully, I was working with my brother, and we were installing a screen door, and we got into a big fight. He owns his own construction company and he knows what he’s doing when it comes to putting together a house. It was just a screen door, something simple, and I was doing it, and he said, ‘No, do it like this.’

“Stubborn guy that I am, I wouldn’t listen. So we got into a big fight, I left, gave a consultant I knew a call, and I had a contract that day.”

Thank heavens, and his brother, for it.

“Yeah, the first time I actually stepped back on the ice it was, ‘Holy, geez, I remember how much fun this is,’ ” Starenky says, 36 hours before the Komets’ big weekend. “Kind of brought me back to the days when I would sleep in my equipment before practice in the morning. Wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning, throw my equipment on waiting for Mom to get ready, and then we’d be off.”

Ahh. Now there’s the life.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.