The Komets violated the ECHL’s rules and regulations and were fined an undisclosed amount by the league, commissioner Ryan Crelin confirmed today, after he investigated assertions made by defenseman Will Petschenig.
Petschenig declared March 11 that an electronic copy of his signature had been used without his knowledge or consent on a form placing him on injured reserve Feb. 19.
“Ultimately, we completed the investigation and we found a violation of the ECHL rules and regulations. A fine was issued. We don’t comment beyond that, as you well know, even as it relates to players and coaches and all that stuff,” Crelin said. “But it was not a salary cap violation that we found, it was a violation of the rules and regulations. Will was eligible to be placed on IR.”
Petschenig had an ankle injury from a Feb. 14 fight with Indy’s Craig Wyszomirski and was subsequently placed on IR, though Petschenig said he was unaware that had happened until a fan told him.
Among the signature lines on IR documents are those of a doctor, athletic trainer, a coach or general manager, and the player.
The Komets told The Journal Gazette in March that general manager David Franke had followed league protocols in using Petschenig’s electronic signature. But the ECHL, which was in communication with the Professional Hockey Players’ Association during its investigation, disagreed with the Komets and levied a fine.
It’s unclear whether Petschenig will get a financial reward, but Crelin said there is an “informant program and it’s at the commissioner’s discretion.”
Petschenig had returned to the Fort Wayne lineup from IR and he and the team parted ways March 9. His rights were claimed off waivers by the Kalamazoo Wings, though COVID-19 forced suspension of the season March 12 and its cancellation March 14.
Petschenig, 25, played in 26 games with the Komets and totaled two assists and 25 penalty minutes.
Off the ice, he runs "A Heart Like Mine," a program for kids who have lost a parent. Through it, kids can attend games, get souvenirs and go into the locker rooms, and they build an off-ice relationship with Petschenig.
Petschenig said he was prohibited from commenting on the ECHL investigation but emphasized he stood up for his beliefs.
“I wouldn’t jeopardize my hockey career,” he said. “More than that, I wouldn’t put my kids program or charity work into question. I wouldn’t falsify any statement. I have no reason to do that. At the end of the day, that would only jeopardize my kids program, my hockey career and my character and integrity. I stood up for what I believed and what is right and (spoke about) what is wrong and what I can accept and what I can’t accept.”
Some Fort Wayne players have told The Journal Gazette they’d been aware their signatures could be used on documents without a heads-up, and players on other teams have said the practice wasn’t unheard of, but the Komets acknowledged better communication is necessary with players being moved to IR.
“It was basically a situation where we all have to be cognizant in the future of making sure we do everything the way we’re supposed to do them, by the rules,” Komets president Michael Franke said. “And in this particular instance the big thing, obviously, is you definitely have to make sure that you have a clear communication with the individual about their status and them being put on IR or not. … I think everybody understands that a little better. You’ve got to make sure you communicate; communication is the key.”
There had been some discussions within the ECHL about revamping IR forms, perhaps eliminating the need for players' signatures, but it seems no changes are imminent.
“We even discussed that with our competition committee,” Crelin said. “Especially when you’re on the road, and things of that nature, it can be strenuous and you’re moving quickly trying to get a doctor’s signature and stuff like that. Ultimately, we felt this was an isolated incident.”
Petschenig had two stints on IR in his first season with the Komets -- from pneumonia and the ankle injury -- and they might have prolonged his time with the team as it dealt with roster-size and salary-cap issues for months. He had played in Switzerland from his rookie season, 2016-17, to 2018-19.