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Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock is in his third season as an alternate captain for the Komets.

Leadership goes deep

Komets enter new league full of captain experience

Samuel Hoffman and Swikar Patel | The Journal Gaze
From left, Komets Brett Smith, Colin Chaulk, Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock and Tyler Butler all have captain experience.

– Colin Chaulk has been the alpha dog in the Komets’ locker room for a long time. Though he didn’t always wear the “C” as captain, no one would dispute that he has been the Komets’ leader during his nine seasons in Fort Wayne, five of which ended with championships.

So maybe he exhibited a touch of territoriality when asked this philosophical question: Can a team have too many leaders?

“If you have too many guys trying to fight over the job, I guess, there could be issues,” Chaulk said.

The Komets have won titles in three leagues with Chaulk – taking the UHL’s Cup in 2003, IHL titles in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and the CHL’s trophy last spring – and now they will chase the ECHL championship.

This season brings a different kind of challenge; the NHL-affiliated ECHL is stocked with younger players and has more teams (23) than any other league the Komets have been in during their 61 seasons.

Although the Komets are light on ECHL experience, they are stocked with established leaders.

Center Brett Smith, who is in his second season with Fort Wayne, captained Bossier-Shreveport to the CHL title in 2011. Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock is entering his third season as an alternate captain with Fort Wayne. Defenseman Brent Henley, who will be in his fourth season with the Komets, has donned the “A” at times. Second-year forward Stephon Thorne was a captain two seasons ago, as a junior in Brampton, Ontario.

And enter into the equation defenseman Tyler Butler, who captained Arizona of the CHL last year and Tulsa in 2009-10.

“I think the guys who are here, we’re all old enough and everyone will take their turn and know that if one guy says something, then you just kind of back them up, basically,” Chaulk said.

Chaulk can be an in-your-face leader, chewing teammates out in the locker room. But he strives to be a lead-by-example guy, who won’t ask anyone to do something that he won’t do himself. No one is above being accountable, he said, even the captain himself.

“I just think if you’re going to be in the leadership role, whatever you say, you have to back it up,” said Chaulk, 35, who had 22 goals and 61 points in 60 games last season.

“Schrocky was giving me a hard time (recently) about telling everyone to get the puck deep, after I turned it over three or four times. … It’s going to eventually happen that you are telling someone what to do and then you’ll do the exact same thing wrong. You need to try and limit those plays when you’re in a leadership role.”

Having Smith has added to the accountability. Like Chaulk, he’s willing to speak up in the locker room and not afraid to get physical on the ice, despite being only 5-foot-8. The difference is, Smith is more affable.

“Chaulk is a tremendous leader. I just came in and from the start, I just tried to lead by example,” said Smith, 31, who had 20 goals and 61 points in 55 games.

“I think I had the respect of guys, but I didn’t want to step on any toes. As the year goes on, you get a little bit more comfortable with guys and can speak a little bit more. I think with Chaulk and I, and some of the older guys, we had a really good mix. Someone would talk, someone would yell, someone would be on the ice doing this or that, and we all jelled together.”

Schrock is the youngest of the Komets who have worn a “C” or “A” in the professional ranks – he is 27 – and he keeps things light by joking around. He and Henley are also the policemen, having to protect stars or fire up teammates with fights and big checks.

Butler, 33, who likes to shoot the puck as much as hit opponents, may be used to commanding the locker room, but he’s biding his time and learning the Komets’ power dynamics.

“In Arizona, my mentality wasn’t to lose. As a person, I won’t change,” he said. “I want to come in and feed off these guys and we’ll go from there. Win or lose, it shouldn’t affect who you are as a person. But I will come in here and see what these guys do to prepare and how I can (help).”

Taking on the leadership role can be a thankless job, since it can make you unpopular with teammates, coaches, owners or fans – especially if you aren’t successful. Just two seasons ago, Guy Dupuis was stripped of the captaincy midseason, before Chaulk returned from a short stint in Europe.

“I remember when I was in Italy and not a captain or anything, I enjoyed just playing and not worrying about the little things. Not that you worry about them, but you do feel responsible,” Chaulk said.

Can a team have too many leaders? The Komets hope not, after assembling a less-than-typical ECHL lineup – they have last season’s CHL MVP, Brandon Marino, along with CHL standouts Eric Giosa and Jean-Philipp Chabot.

“It’s never a bad thing to have too many leaders, as long as it jells well and everyone respects each other and will listen to each other,” Smith said.

“I would take captains from all over the leagues. Whether you are wearing a “C” or an “A” – you don’t need that to be a leader – but guys like that are going to help out. We’re going to have a younger group this year and we’re going to need guys to step up. Our young group last year was tremendous, they followed and did everything asked of them, and I expect the same this year.”