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Komets get big hitter back


– Defenseman Ryan Hegarty has looked like a much different defenseman since returning from a hand injury, which kept him out of nine games in November. Despite only being 6 feet tall, 200 pounds, he’s delivered some big checks for the Komets.

For those more in love with the nasty Hegarty than the playmaking one, you can actually thank the injury for the change.

“I guess when you miss the game for so long, you get so excited and start throwing your body around,” Hegarty said.

When the season opened, it looked as if Hegarty would be one of the few offensive defensemen on the Komets’ roster. But his physical play has actually created space and helped his offensive production.

He was scoreless and minus-5 in the five games before the injury. In the 42 games since, he has two goals, six points and a minus-3 rating.

Those statistics won’t intimidate the opposition, but his checks might.

“It’s a different game when you watch it from up top (in the press box) and see the opportunities you can have when you play the game,” said Hegarty, 22. “With not playing, you get that pent-up energy and start playing more physically when you get back.”

And he’s just a rookie out of the University of Maine, where he had two goals and 14 points in 40 games last season.

“I’ve learned a tremendous amount this season,” said Hegarty, a fourth-round draft pick of the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks in 2008.

“The transition from the college to pro game is always a long one. … But thanks to the help of the coaches and the older players here, really, instead of just playing and being here, I feel like I’ve been able to make a difference.”

With 12 games remaining in the regular season, Fort Wayne (29-28-3) is seven points back of defending champion Florida (29-20-10) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Komets play host to the Everblades on Friday and Saturday at Memorial Coliseum.

It’s been a rough season for the Komets, who won championships in four of five seasons in the IHL and CHL before joining the ECHL last summer, and Hegarty has been one of the few players to clearly improve.

He got lucky, in a sense, since the broken bone in his hand didn’t prevent him from practicing in November.

“I feel really good. It hasn’t bothered me since and I was fortunate to keep skating while I was battling through it,” he said. “I was actually able to use a stick and puck about a week after it (happened).”

Last week, defensemen Nick Schaus and Gabe Guentzel got sent down from Norfolk of the American Hockey League. The Komets went 1-0-1 at South Carolina – Schaus scored twice, including the overtime game-winner Saturday – and their presence took some pressure off of Hegarty.

He can now focus even more on that physical play he’s discovered.