FORT WAYNE –
5 key new players
Charlie Effinger: The Komets know just how difficult it is to beat this goaltender. Last season, in the Turner Conference finals, Effinger took them to the brink of elimination while with the Missouri Mavericks. He stopped 91.9 percent of the shots he faced in that seven-game series. With four-time Cup-winning goalie Nick Boucher sidelined until January with a hip injury, Effinger was the Komets’ first choice as a replacement and they got him.
Kenny Reiter: The Komets’ second choice as a replacement for Boucher was Reiter, who led Minnesota-Duluth to the NCAA championship in 2011, and they got him, too. He is the younger brother of Kevin Reiter, the Komets’ former star goalie. While Kenny Reiter is considered a legitimate NHL prospect, he is light on professional experience. He has played only 59 minutes, with Bridgeport of the American Hockey League last season.
Brandon Marino: He may only be 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, but he sure can score. And pass. And hit. Marino had 41 goals and 90 points in 65 games last season with Quad City, earning MVP honors in the CHL. Think of him as the second coming of Bobby Stewart, who starred for the Komets on the 2003 title team in the UHL.
Eric Giosa: He played alongside Marino, tallying 28 goals and 70 points in 64 games last season with Quad City, and the Komets are banking that the familiarity between the two will pay off this season. Giosa is a center but has the ability to play on the wing, too, and he’s an ace on special teams. He had 11 power-play goals last season, second most in the CHL.
Tyler Butler: Butler brings great leadership to Fort Wayne, after serving as captain in Arizona and Tulsa of the CHL, but more importantly he brings a physical style of play and a knack of scoring. While he’s never had more than 12 goals or 52 points in North American hockey, the Komets are banking that his penchant for shooting the puck, and the supporting cast, will make him one of the highest-scoring defensemen in the ECHL.
4 points of concern
Replacing scoring: The Komets lost Mike Vaskivuo, who was the Playoff MVP, and Bobby Chaumont, who was the leading scorer during the regular season. Longtime center Leo Thomas is also gone. While the Komets seem to have filled the void, at least on paper, the newcomers must prove that they can at least make up for the losses – if not surpass them.
Replacing blue line scoring: Frankie DeAngelis, an all-league defenseman in the CHL, retired. Jamie Milam didn’t return. The Komets must replace the productivity on the blue line, especially on offense. That puts the pressure squarely on Butler and rookie Daniel Maggio, who played with Fort Wayne in the playoffs last season.
Speed: The ECHL will be faster than the CHL. While the Komets have some players who will thrive on that – Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock, Stephon Thorne, Chris Auger, Jean-Michel Rizk – this could be a challenge for the older players like Colin Chaulk and Brent Henley. If the Komets don’t adapt to the new league, they won’t succeed.
Losing players to call-ups: Now that the Komets are affiliated with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks and the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals, they could lose their best players at any time to call-ups. Of course, players will get sent down, too, but there will be some nervousness around playoff time that the best talent could leave town. At least it’s the same boat for almost everyone in the ECHL.
3 rivalries to be excited about
Kalamazoo: Only 117 miles separate Fort Wayne and Wings Stadium, a building that had become a second home to the Komets’ fans before the Wings left for the ECHL in 2009. While this hasn’t been the most physical rivalry through the years, it’s one that has always featured close games and much banter between the respective fan bases.
Toledo: For a physical, bloody rivalry, Toledo and Fort Wayne provided plenty of drama through the ages. The teams haven’t been in the same league, though, since 1986 in the original IHL. With former Komets tough guy David Starenky on the Toledo roster, it should add a pinch of flavor to the rivalry.
Evansville: These in-state rivals both moved from the CHL to the ECHL this year. There are players who have been rivals for a decade – Colin Chaulk and Todd Robinson – and it even got heated between the teams during the preseason, with seven fights in two games. Flat out, the Komets and IceMen don’t like each other.
2 road trips to make
Orlando: Back-to-back-to-back games in Florida? In December? You can’t beat that. The Komets play there Dec. 7, 8 and 9. The Solar Bears are an expansion team, but the Komets played Orlando in the IHL from 1995 to 1999.
Colorado: The Komets and Colorado have been two of the strongest franchises in the minors for a long time, but they’ve met only three times, in 2011, and Colorado won all three. Fort Wayne plays there Feb. 6, 8 and 9.
1 thing you will love about ECHL
Future NHL stars: Not since the Komets were in the original IHL in 1998 has there been this much potential to see future NHL players at Memorial Coliseum. We know that Reiter is on the NHL radar, and the Admirals should have a few more players here by this weekend. But when you consider all the different teams that will be at the Coliseum, coupled with the labor strife in the NHL, it seems likely you will see a lot of big-time players in this AA-level league.