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The Journal Gazette

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Komets goalie Michael Houser makes a save on a Kalamazoo shot during Monday's exhibition game at Memorial Coliseum. It was Houser's first action.

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Komets forward Mason Baptista fights Kalamazoo’s Sean O’Rourke during Monday’s exhibition.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017 1:00 am

Komets 4 Kalamazoo 1

Cohesive K's impress coach

Camaraderie cited after 2nd preseason win

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

The Komets completed their three-game preseason slate with a 4-1 victory over the Kalamazoo Wings at Memorial Coliseum, where the 66th regular season will open Saturday against the Toledo Walleye.

There were plenty of standout players for the Komets: goaltender Michael Houser stopped 33 shots while donning the fireball logo for the first time; Garrett Thompson had a goal and an assist after some early misfires; Shawn Szydlowski netted the winning goal 7:53 into the third period during a 2-on-1 rush; Jamie Schaafsma and Tyson Fawcett finished the third-period onslaught with goals; and Dennis Kravchenko had two assists.

But coach Gary Graham, whose Komets won twice in the preseason, was most pleased with something else.

“Every game had a kind of sticking-up-for-each-other element to it. You saw tonight the (Sean O'Rourke knee-to-knee) hit against Garrett Thompson and then Mason Baptista, who's always a heart-and-soul guy for us, gets in there right away (to fight him),” Graham said. “When you can start developing that camaraderie – there's a lot of new faces in that locker room – and when guys can start backing each other up (it's great).”

The Komets want to be tough but not penalty prone, after they ranked fourth with 17.94 penalty minutes per game last season.

“Knowing guys are out there on the same page, and you're willing to do something for the guy to the left or the right of you in that locker room, that's contagious stuff,” Graham said. “That's stuff that coaching staffs, you can't manufacture that. You either have it or you don't. That's the thing I've enjoyed the most about this group is watching them sacrifice for one another.”

The Komets cut forward Brad Bourke, defenseman Don Olivieri and goalie Sean Bonar on Monday, giving them a roster of 23 that needs to be three or four lighter.

But those numbers are about to change. Defenseman Curtis Leonard will rejoin the Komets today after a stint with Chicago of the higher-level American Hockey League, and the team plans to sign Daniel Maggio, who played for them from 2011 to 2013, and others could also arrive from Tucson.

The most watched battle has been between the pipes, where Garrett Bartus, Monday's backup, and rookie Alex Sakellaropoulos have been competing for one spot. It's not unheard of for an ECHL team to carry three goalies, but it's not easy because of the salary cap and roster sizes.

“The positive has been the work ethic and just seeing how much skill we have,” Szydlowski said. “We definitely have a better skating team this year and should jell pretty well.”

The Komets hope to look more structured Saturday.

“It's been a little sloppy just because we haven't been able to go over too many things,” Szydlowski said. “You kind of rifle through so much stuff through training camp with so many bodies. We didn't get too much time to focus on things, but we've got a lot of time this week not playing until Saturday, so we'll be able to work on some stuff.”

jcohn@jg.net