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Swikar Patel/The Journal Gazette
Anaheim prospect Josh Brittain just misses a goal against Trenton on Saturday night.

Is Komets' problem affiliation?

I'm hearing a lot of chatter among the fans, the players and the Komets' management that maybe the affiliation with the Anaheim Ducks is the reason for Fort Wayne's mediocrity.

I don't personally agree with this, but more on my thoughts later.

In the midst of the Komets' 5-2 loss to Trenton on Saturday night -- a loss that dropped them to 14-12-2 in their first ECHL season -- team president Michael Franke was interviewed by Bob Chase on WOWO, 1190 AM.

Here are some things that Franke had to say about the fledgling affiliation with the Ducks and their American Hockey League team, the Norfolk Admirals ...

"We've been in a win-one, lose-one mode for a couple weeks and it's perplexing. Our situation is similar to a lot of teams in our league," Franke said. "We've got about six Anaheim guys and Kenny Reiter from the Islanders, and you're talking about 30 or 35 percent of your team, they're really not our guys. And everybody in the league has the same situation going on.

"It's very, very difficult to get everybody on the same page on a consistent basis. We've had that problem so far this year. And in the end, if you're going to be successful, whether it be as an independent team or one that has six or seven players (from the parent club), everybody has to buy into the program. And I don't think we have a total buy-in right now. ... It's got to be a buy-in and that's true in any business or any sport. Your employees have to understand and believe in what you're trying to accomplish. That's no different in hockey."

Franke went on to talk about the importance, from an on-ice and marketing perspective, of having the players who are signed by and groomed by the Komets, not sent from and to the parent club.

"We're AA hockey. There are very, very few guys that are going to go from AA hockey to the NHL and I'm an advocate of promoting the players that are on your team and playing in your city," Franke said. "I'm not a real advocate of putting a lot of hype and promotion into the guys that leave, because in the end that doesn't really do your franchise any good. That's something minor-league hockey is a little confused on. ...

"When you have a guy on your team, you're playing for the crest on the front. You're not playing for the name on the back.

"It's how you build your franchise within a community and it takes time. It's important to have recognizable faces within your team, within your community over the years. For us, in the last seven or eight years, it's been the Dupuis and the Chaulks. Huge, huge contributors in the community. Kaleigh Schrock and we're developing new guys like J.M. Rizk. And we're hoping guys like Brandon Marino and Eric Giosa and Daniel Maggio and Brett Smith can be guys like that, too."

So, let's delve into this.

More than a few people have said to me they are unimpressed with the players sent down by Anaheim and Norfolk. I disagree.

The Komets have gotten a first-line player in Josh Brittain, a good up-and-coming prospect in Ryan Lasch, a former NHL player in Luca Caputi, a promising Matt Kennedy and a decent rookie defenseman in Ryan Hegarty. Then there's Garrett Klotz and two guys who have been called up, defenseman Nick Schaus and goaltender Marco Cousineau.

What more did you think they would send?

And there has been very little movement back and forth between the Komets and Norfolk.

Now, of course, that's the on-paper analysis. It doesn't take a genius to figure out there has been some displeasure among the Komets with the attitudes of some of the players sent down. Caputi was scratched the last two games, though the Komets say he was ill. Some players have privately told me that some of the Anaheim/Norfolk guys are less concerned with the team than their personal stats.

But the Komets' chemistry issues aren't just about the players sent down. I've come across players this season more concerned with what I'm writing or tweeting during games than they are about losing those games. That's a pretty sure sign there are some problems.

One player sent me a text message today, upon hearing about a teammate peeved about something I wrote. "Seriously," the player wrote, "you are worried about a reporter who is doing his job? He's there to write. You're here to play. Simple as that."

Amen to that.

But almost every team in the ECHL is stocked with players trying to move up. And lots of those players -- right or wrong -- are more concerned with improving their stats than getting the AA-level team wins.

So if everyone in the ECHL is in the same boat, the Komets can't really complain about it. Especially since no one forced them to affiliate in the first place.

The bigger problem is that the Komets misjudged their personnel last summer.

Coach Al Sims was asked Saturday about the woefulness of the power play, which is ranked worst in the 23-team ECHL, and he said it's a product of having two rookies (Maggio and Hegarty) running the point and them just not having enough experience back there.

Well, who's to blame for that? The Komets didn't have an adequate backup plan when Frankie DeAngelis retired last summer and/or they somehow banked on Norfolk sending an experienced offensive defenseman. Either way, that's on them, not on Anaheim.

The Komets' problems are fixable, I think. They just need to get everyone worrying about the team, not individual stats. And if they won't, bench them.

And, let's remember, the Komets have had a slew of injuries this season, too.

If there's something you can blame on the affiliation, it's that it makes it harder to trade. The Komets can't deal any of the guys sent to them by the parent club, so that limits their options as they look for more defensemen and another power forward.

Thoughts?

Justin A. Cohn, pro sports coordinator for The Journal Gazette, has been covering the Fort Wayne Komets since 1997. His reporting includes game stories from home and away, features about the players and personalities associated with the Komets, plus coverage of issues affecting hockey at all levels. A native of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Cohn graduated from Emory University in Atlanta. He can be reached at 260-461-8429 or by email at jcohn@jg.net.

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