Komets vs. Wichita
When: 7:30 p.m. today
Where: Memorial Coliseum
Radio: 1190 AM, 107.5 FM
The Komets have dealt with injuries all season long, as well as players being called up to the American Hockey League. But the defensive corps had been mostly unchanged, the foundation of the lineup, until last week when Ryan Culkin was plucked by the AHL's Tucson Roadrunnners.
The Komets continued to show their versatility, though, with a 6-4 victory Friday over the Rapid City Rush and a 7-3 victory Saturday over the Wheeling Nailers, giving Fort Wayne eight victories in its last nine games.
It helps that the Komets (29-13-2) have a captain, Jamie Schaafsma, willing and able to drop back from forward to defense and fill in like he did last weekend. And it also helps that just about all of the Fort Wayne blue-liners can generate offense.
“It was a little nerve-wracking at the start, but I got pretty comfortable out there,” said Schaafsma, who credited defense partner Ryan Lowney for picking up the slack when it was needed. “I thought he made it easy on me. He's talking to me out there.”
There is a silver lining to having Schaafsma on defense and that's his offense. He has 12 goals and 22 points in 37 games this season.
“You always want to have threats on the points, so teams are going to have to respect that, and it'll open things up for our forwards, as well. It's nice to see goals come from our defense, too,” said Schaafsma, whose Komets play host to the Wichita Thunder (25-16-3) at 7:30 p.m. today and 8 p.m. Friday at Memorial Coliseum. “Right now, I'm just trying to do my part defensively. I don't want to be a liability out there, so I'm just trying to keep things simple and try to learn as I'm going. I'm having a lot of fun doing that.”
Culkin had nine goals and 29 points in 42 games. The rest of the blue-liners include: Jason Binkley (4 goals, 26 points), Cody Sol (6 goals, 24 points), Lowney (6 goals, 18 points), Bobby Shea (6 goals, 15 points) and Curtis Leonard (2 goals, 10 points). Daniel Maggio, who played forward and defense for the Komets, is also with Tucson.
Sol picked up the slack last weekend with four points, including a pivotal goal early in the third period against Rapid City followed by an empty-netter.
“I have six goals this season and (two) are empty netters. They don't ask, 'How?' They just ask, 'How many?' Especially empty-netters, you just have to go for it. Just put the nail in the coffin,” said Sol, adding that the defensemen try to make the easy plays to put the forwards in position for success.
“We have a lot of players that can get the puck into the hands of our forwards. A lot of our second assists or first assists, we get (the puck) to our forwards and our forwards can work their magic.”
The Komets are hoping to get a new defenseman this week, which might mean Schaafsma could move back up to forward.
“Jamie's an all-arounder,” Sol said. “To be able to play 13 or 14 years pro and then plays defense for us, it shows what kind of talent he has.”
Since the Nov. 17 trade, Louick Marcotte has nine goals and 20 points in 24 games with Fort Wayne and Ralph Cuddemi has 13 goals and 26 points in 31 games with Wichita.
Aubree Reichel of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.