FORT WAYNE – Last season was so bad for the Komets that forward Chris Auger, who missed almost all of it because of a knee injury, said maybe it’s a blessing in disguise that I wasn’t a part of it. I can come in with a clean slate like everyone else.
After winning four championships over five years in the IHL and CHL, the Komets entered the ECHL in the fall of 2012 with great expectations. Instead, they went 33-35-4 and missed the postseason for the first time since 2002.
That led to mass overhauls.
Coach Al Sims, who led the Komets to five championships, announced his retirement. (It was short-lived; he’s now coaching the Bradford Rattlers, a Junior A team.) Longtime captain Colin Chaulk retired and is now an assistant coach with Kalamazoo of the ECHL.
And new coach Gary Graham, who was an assistant coach with the Komets from 2008 to 2012, brought back only a handful of players for this season’s training camp, which opens Sunday at Memorial Coliseum.
The holdovers from last season are forward Brandon Marino, who was selected MVP by his teammates, Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock and Matt Firman, along with a couple players who saw limited action – John Dunbar and Jeremy Gates.
Then, there’s Auger, who played only four games before a low hit from Evansville’s Matt Gens tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus, and 2012 Playoff MVP Mike Vaskivuo, who’s back after a season in Europe.
It’s a whole new atmosphere, a whole new culture, Auger said. Realistically, there’s myself, Schrock, Marino and Firman back from last season. Outside of that, there’s going to be a lot of developing new relationships with everyone.
The Komets will play three preseason games – Wednesday at Wheeling, W.Va., Oct. 11 at Kalamazoo, Mich., and Oct. 12 at the Coliseum against Wheeling – before the team’s 62nd season opens Oct. 19 against Toledo at the Coliseum.
The Komets have 27 players signed so far and 26 of them are expected to be there Sunday. Drew Olson is still in camp with Syracuse of the American Hockey League. Among the biggest newcomers are forwards Mickey Lang, Bobby Hughes and Matthew Larke, defensemen Nick Tuzzolino and Simon Danis-Pepin, and goaltenders John Muse and Cody Reichard.
It’s going to be very competitive (at training camp), said Graham, who will have to cut around eight players, maybe more if players are sent down from the American Hockey League.
I’ve been here the last five camps – I was here (helping out) last year, too – and I can’t believe the amount of quality we have coming in to compete. It’s going to be a very, very competitive camp. There are going to be a lot of very good players who don’t make the team. And that’s the way it should be. The cream’s going to rise to the top.
Auger said the players know they can’t glide by in practice if they want to make the team.
It will be high tempo, he said. Any time you go through big changes in the summer, it brings expectations and guys have the opportunity to create new roles.