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Friday, June 29, 2018 1:00 am

Captain, 2 others returning to K's

14-year veteran will be assistant coach in addition to playing

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Komets captain Jamie Schaafsma will be returning to Fort Wayne for a fourth season, the team announced Thursday.

The Komets also signed defensemen Jason Binkley and Ryan Lowney to contracts that will allow them to return for the 2018-19 season.

The 35-year-old Schaafsma, a forward, is entering his 15th season of professional hockey and will serve as a player/assistant coach for the third season with the Komets. In 2017-18, he scored 12 goals and had 27 points, adding five goals and seven points in the playoffs.

For a team that is experiencing a lot of turnover this offseason, including the loss of ECHL MVP Shawn Szydlowski to a team in Norway, Schaafsma's continued leadership will be key.

“He leads the Komet Way to all the new players coming in,” general manager David Franke said. “He'll make sure they understand how we go about our business, how we play the game, how we practice.”

Schaafsma, a native of Chatham, Ontario, has played all over the world in his 15-year-career, including stints in Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. He's played in the United States since 2012-13 and beginning that season he won three straight league championships with the Allen Americans, including one in the ECHL.

That championship experience is invaluable to Schaafsma's ability to lead the Komets, who have reached the conference finals in two of the last three seasons, but have not won a title since joining the ECHL in 2012-13.

“When you win championships, you have instant credibility,” said Komets coach Gary Graham, who is entering his sixth season. “You've been through the trenches, you know what it takes to win a championship. And that's what it's all about in Fort Wayne is winning championships.

“Jamie wants to win a championship as a Fort Wayne Komet, as well as all of us.”

The Komets will also bring back a pair of young players in Binkley and Lowney. The 26-year-old Binkley led the Fort Wayne defensemen with 27 assists in 2017-18 and added seven in the playoffs. He also netted three goals in the postseason and was plus-5 in the Komets' 18 playoff games. Next year will be his third with Fort Wayne.

“Every year his role continues to grow and develop,” Graham said of the Powell, Ohio, native. “He was a guy that came in and was kind of an unknown type of guy, but he's been back-to-back years very consistent with the club. The expectations continue to grow for him.”

The 24-year-old Lowney played his first full pro season with the Komets in 2017-18 and ranked fourth among rookies with a plus-22 in 60 games. He earned the team's Most Improved Player Award and tallied five points in the playoffs.

The three the Komets signed Thursday join forward Anthony Petruzzelli and defenseman Kevin Gibson on the team's preseason roster.

Note: Defenseman Curtis Leonard, 25, who has played for the Komets since 2015-16, signed with the Belfast Giants of the Elite Ice Hockey League, the Ireland-based team announced Thursday. Leonard had 21 points with the Komets in 2017-18 and was among the league leaders in plus/minus at plus-34.

dsinn@jg.net