FORT WAYNE – As thousands of Komets fans gathered at the Memorial Coliseum Expo Center for the annual end-of-season party Thursday night, the teams rookies looked green again for the first time in months.
They were mobbed for autographs, had their jerseys auctioned off for hundreds or thousands of dollars, and they posed for pictures with the Ray Miron Presidents Cup, which they captured Monday by completing a five-game victory over the Wichita Thunder.
A unique component of these Komets, who won their ninth championship in 60 years, was how much the rookies contributed in the postseason.
Jean-Michel Rizk, Stephon Thorne, Tom Mele, Daniel Maggio, Bryant Molle and Derek Roehl combined for 13 of the Komets 71 goals and 34 of the their 187 points in the 18 playoff games, which culminated with a 6-3 victory.
Some players wait a long time to enjoy such success – defenseman Jamie Lovell was in his seventh season and got to hoist the Cup for the first time – so the rookies cant necessarily fully appreciate what theyve accomplished.
I was talking to Lovell about exactly that, and he said that since hed been close before and hadnt won it, he appreciates this in a different way, Rizk said. I understand. I talked to the older guys, and they told me how rare these championships are. Im trying to soak it in, in a sense, but I dont know if I can appreciate it fully.
Rizk had seven goals and 14 points in the playoffs. Thorne had one goal and six points.
It was unreal, Thorne said. I was happy that the rookies even got to play. On most teams, the older players are the go-to guys. In these playoffs, we all played a decent amount of shifts each. For these rookies, to be together and winning this with all the vets, its an unbelievable feeling.
When the Komets make their expected move from the CHL to the ECHL – general manager David Franke said an announcement regarding next season will come before June 1 – they may have to field a lineup even younger than the one they had this season.
Look at this team. It really showed at times how good it could be and then it really showed it in the playoffs, Franke said. Trust me, whatever league were in, this team can play in either league. (But) there are some very good players on this team that wont be back next year (simply) because theyll get a better deal somewhere else. Winning a championship gives you a good resume and you can market yourself better.
This was the Komets fourth championship in five years and the one populated with the most youngsters. Eight players were 26 or younger, including Playoff MVP Mike Vaskivuo.
Getting this my first year in pro is probably the best thing I ever could feel and Im very happy about it, Thorne said. But maybe it hasnt really kicked in compared to some of the other guys.
Notes: Komets broadcaster Bob Chase announced he will be back for his 60th season. Though he contemplated retirement, management insisted he return, he said.