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Players approve of Komets’ new coach

– When Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock was still in college, winning a Division III national championship at Neumann, Gary Graham was already on the phone pestering him to come play for the Komets.

And when Schrock had any struggles in his first three years with the Komets, Graham was someone who helped him get out of the funk.

So after Graham was introduced as the Komets’ 28th head coach Tuesday, Schrock, an alternate captain last season, was quick to give his endorsement of the hire.

“He’s a guy who’s very passionate about what he does. There’s no questioning his work ethic,” Schrock said. “Even when his fireworks store (Pyromaniac Fireworks) burned to the ground (in 2009), he said, ‘I’m not going to quit. I’m going to build it back up.’

“That’s just the attitude he has about things.”

Graham’s playing career was brief – he made it to Tier II juniors – and he started coaching with high school teams, including Snider in 2002, but now he’s coaching two steps below the NHL.

That’s a testament to his drive, said Schrock, whose Komets went 33-35-4 in last season – their first in the ECHL – and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

“This is a league in which you need to develop players and he’s passionate about that and passionate about getting it to the next level,” Schrock said. “There are a lot of good things to come for the organization.”

Graham, 34, replaced Al Sims, 60, who retired after leading the Komets to four championships in the last six years.

Graham was Sims’ assistant coach from 2008 to 2012, starting in an unpaid role and helped them to three playoff titles.

He was the head coach last season of the Pensacola Ice Flyers, who won the Southern Professional Hockey League championship.

“I think it’s great,” Komets forward Jean-Michel Rizk said. “Who better than Gary? He’s so passionate about the game and studies it so much that it makes sense.”

Graham’s former players lit up Twitter with commendations on the hire.

“Congrats to Gary graham (on the) head coaching job in Fort Wayne. He will make Komet fans happy,” tweeted former Komets player Stephon Thorne.

Goaltender Gerry Festa, who played for Graham in Fort Wayne and Pensacola, agreed.

“Congrats, Gary Graham – 2 yrs together, 2 rings. He is knowledgable, motivating, understands the game, and works hard,” Festa tweeted.