The Fort Wayne Spacemen didn't come into existence until May 20. They didn't name a coach, former Komets captain Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock, until June 19.
That doesn't seem like much time for Fort Wayne's new junior hockey team to get things put together in advance of the 44-game season that starts in September. But an energetic skate Saturday morning at the SportONE/Parkview Icehouse, where Schrock shared some of his vision for the inaugural team, made one feel as if time isn't really an enemy.
“Obviously, for a lot of guys, you can tell who's in shape and who's out of shape,” Schrock said. “But it was a pretty good skate.”
Ten players were being looked at by the Spacemen as prospects; the rest of the ice was buzzing with local skaters invited to get a workout and add energy to the goings on.
“I loved the skill level. It was a great group of guys. The goaltending was magnificent. Players were passing well and working well with each other,” said Angola's Corbin Schiebel, who played Triple-A last season for the Indy Fuel and has already signed with the Spacemen.
Some area players being looked at by Schrock and general manager John Finch on Saturday included Lawrence Huffman, Ronan McLaughlin, Steven Vlot, Michael Hall and Ryan Lay. They could join a roster that already has Schiebel and Fort Wayne natives Brenden Lambert and Jared Fisher.
“It's really starting to pick up right now. This is the time of year when teams at higher levels have already had a camp and kids are starting to filter down to us,” Finch said. “We've got five or six kids who have traveled here from Michigan or Ohio to try and get on our team. And we've had some good signings. That helps, too, because once they see that other kids have signed, it helps to pick up the interest.”
From a business perspective, the Spacemen may have a difficult time penetrating a winter sports scene that has the Komets and Mad Ants basketball team, plus quality hockey at the college level (Indiana Tech and Trine) and the high-school level.
However, Fort Wayne fans are normally drawn to winners and the connections that Schrock, Finch and co-owner Todd Ramsey have may aid the Spacemen in their desire to chase a championship while developing players, ages 17 to 21, for college or higher-level junior hockey.
“It would be great to have a young player who can play here for a couple of years, but ultimately I want to redo the roster every year if I can because it's a developmental league,” Schrock said. “I want to make sure that I'm trying to move guys to the next level because, otherwise, the players aren't going to want to come to Fort Wayne.”
Spacemen players will have the SportONE/Parkview Fieldhouse across the street to train, and they'll have the chance to work with offensive-minded assistant coach Josh Moles; Parris Duffus, who made it to the NHL as a goaltender; and skating coach John Salway, who works with several pro players.
Not every Junior A team in the United States Premier Hockey League can boast all that. And while it's not easy to make sense right now of the roster, it's clearly a buyer's market for the all-important goalie position, partially because of changes to the rules in the higher-level North American Hockey League.
“Playing here is a good opportunity,” Schiebel said. “Every game is going to be like a tryout because there will be people in the stands looking at you and you don't even know it. They could lead you to the NAHL or the (National Collegiate Development Conference).”
Schrock wants players who are hungry to get noticed and it seems he's already on his way.
Justin A. Cohn, senior writer for The Journal Gazette, has covered Fort Wayne sports since 1997. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 260-461-8429. You can also follow him on Twitter@sportsicohn.