The Komets' Zach Pochiro can do things few at the Double-A level of hockey can and it was apparent his first game back Jan. 5, after a brief retirement, as he dipsy-doodled his way through three Toledo defenders. In eight games since, Pochiro has tallied two goals and nine points – in the span of just 12 days – and has been a boost to the team's sagging offense.
But Pochiro's unique skillsaren't limited to the ice.
“I can now grab a desk with a four-wheel dolly and walk it right out the door by myself, no problem,” Pochiro said, chuckling.
As the Komets gathered for training camp in October, Pochiro was working at the family furniture business in Las Vegas, learning it from the ground up, which meant he was on loading docks, doing the “grunt work.”
He'd been a big part of the Komets' run to the Kelly Cup last season – totaling 14 goals and 29 points in 32 regular-season games, then one assist in six playoff games – but he'd retired in the wake of frustrating injuries, with a desire to help the family in the midst of the pandemic.
It didn't take long for Pochiro to start missing hockey, though.
“I'm only 27, and I think maybe I'd pulled the trigger on (retirement) a little too soon. I'm just happy to be back working, but not doing warehouse stuff,” Pochiro said, noting that his family assured him a job awaits when he truly is done playing hockey.
Ravaged by call-ups and injuries, the Komets were ecstatic to get a player of Pochiro's caliber for a second season – he had 34 goals and 58 points in 63 games for the Allen Americans in 2018-19 – and he's helped fill the void left by players such as Drake Rymsha and Matthew Boudens.
“It's great when you can add a champion, and someone who has almost led the league in goal scoring,” said coach Ben Boudreau, whose Komets (18-12-4) play host to the Cincinnati Cyclones (20-13-1) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Coliseum. “He's got a knack for making plays, and he's got a knack for scoring goals.
“So far, his vision has really come to life. You add a guy like that to the lineup and you can see why the power play has started getting going, too.
“He was at forefront of our offensive success last season and bringing him back, there's no question, he's definitely helped our offensive side of things.”
The Komets are coming off Sunday's 5-2 victory over the Kalamazoo Wings, in which Fort Wayne scored on 3 of 6 power plays and Pochiro had a goal – scored after a Matt Alvaro no-look pass through the crease – and two assists.
“(Pochiro) took all that time off and he's making plays all over the ice,” Alvaro said. “It just speaks to his skill level and his hockey IQ, really, and I think he's just going to keep getting better. Obviously, he's been a big boost for our power play. He can run that half-wall better than anyone in the league, I think, and he's been great to have.”
Pochiro got off to a torrid start last season with eight goals in seven games. By the playoffs, he was hindered by injuries to his shoulder and wrist.
“I was just banged up. I was like 70%,” said Pochiro, who rehabbed the injuries non-surgically. “With that team last year, too, (we had so much depth and) you could throw a guy in like Jackson Leef and he was dominant, he was good. I just felt like I was hurting the team. I wanted to be on the ice. I'd rather be on the ice and have my shoulder fall apart, but (I didn't want to) be the guy who cost us a goal or something.”
Despite a minus-6 rating this season, Pochiro's contributions have been impressive, considering the plan to ease him into the lineup was trumped by the Komets' short-handedness. Maybe it's because of his experience last season, or maybe all that heavy lifting on the docks gave him unexpected stamina.
“I guess getting throw in like that, there were no expectations. It was just kind of, 'Go out and play, Zach, and just try not to throw up on this ice and embarrass yourself,'” Pochiro said. “I don't know what it was, but I didn't feel as winded as I thought I would.
“You know, last year when we came in, it had been 11 months and change since we'd played hockey. So that was really tough to come back from.
“But this year was the opposite and I feel great.”
Note: The Komets traded forward Nick Jermain to the Maine Mariners for rookie goaltender Zachary Bouthillier, who was a seventh-round draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2018.
Bouthillier, 22, was 2-2-1 with a 3.60 goals-against average and a .898 save percentage for Maine this season. He played for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Saint John Sea Dogs, going 19-25-0 with a 4.16 GAA, a .897 SP and two shutouts in 2019-20.
Jermain had two goals and 15 points in 28 games for Fort Wayne.
Komets vs Cincinnati Cyclones
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Memorial Coliseum
at Toledo Walleye
When: 5:15 p.m. Sunday
Where: Huntington Center, Toledo
Radio: 1190 AM, 107.5 FM