The Komets thought they'd be preparing Thursday night for the Central Division finals. Instead, they were saying goodbye – to each other and the fans – at the end-of-season jersey auction at Memorial Coliseum.
The pain of the 3-2 loss to the Wheeling Nailers in Game 7 on Tuesday – decided by Mathieu Quercia's 15-foot shot in overtime at the Coliseum – was still fresh for the Komets, who fell in the first round of the playoffs.
“It's sudden. That's why they call it 'sudden death,'” general manager David Franke said. “Everything just stops in time when the goal went in, into the back of the net, for Wheeling. It's disappointing. We thought we had a team that could make a good run this year.”
One of the biggest questions facing the Komets is whether coach Ben Boudreau will return, as his contract is expiring. With a 100-64-20 regular-season record and a 12-8 playoff mark over three seasons, he could get looks from NHL or American Hockey League teams.
“For me, I'm going to continue to act as the head coach until I'm told I'm not wanted anymore,” said Boudreau, whose contract runs through June 30. “I'd love to get another crack at it. Fort Wayne is my home. Both my boys were born here. My wife and I call this home, and this is where we live full time. For us, we'd love to find a way to come back here to Fort Wayne and that's going to be my first intention when we have talks with ownership. As far as I'm concerned, I'm here in Fort Wayne.”
Franke said he wants to get Boudreau and assistant coach Olivier Legault “taken care of,” so they return next season. Franke would like to avoid the prolonged impasse of last summer, when Boudreau interviewed with at least one AHL team.
“I like what we do as a team, we work together really well, but we're going to talk to (Boudreau and Legault) and lay out the parameters and go from there,” Franke said. “But it's not going to be a real long (process), it's going to be something we'll work out quickly.”
Next season's ECHL schedule was unveiled Thursday, and the Komets open Oct. 21 against the Indy Fuel in Indianapolis, then open at home Oct. 22 against Cincinnati. The Komets play host to the expansion Savannah Ghost Pirates on Oct. 28 and 29. The Bob Chase Memorial game on Thanksgiving is against Cincinnati, and the New Year's Eve game will be against Indy.
The most frequent opponents will be Indy and Wheeling with 11 meetings each. The Komets will have 10 games apiece against Kalamazoo and Toledo, which they'll face in the April 16 finale in Toledo. The Komets will again be in the Central Division with Toledo, Wheeling, Indy, Cincinnati, Kalamazoo and Iowa.
The Fort Wayne roster is going to look different because the Komets don't own the rights to NHL- or AHL-contracted players including Will Graber, the ECHL's leading scorer and MVP; some players are signing lucrative deals in Europe; and at least three players are considering retirement.
Shawn Szydlowski, the longest-tenured player, is one of them. He had back surgery last summer and couldn't play until December, then missed 23 of 54 games with various injuries, not related to his back, and illnesses.
“That frustrates me the most, knowing my team couldn't count on me every night to be in the lineup,” he said. “It was something that weighed on me pretty heavily. I don't want to go into another season and feel like I'm going to do that to the team. It's frustrating for myself, too, because when you're not playing, you don't feel as much like a part of the guys. ... You're almost lonely.”
Szydlowski said he's going to take some time to decide whether he'll continue playing but believes having a full summer to work on conditioning would put him in better position to play a full slate if he doesn't retire.
Jersey auction results
Shawn Szydlowski: $2,300
Anthony Petruzzelli: $2,250
Matthew Boudens: $1,800
Will Graber: $1,500
Oliver Cooper: $1,500
Mark Rassell: $1,500
Samuel Harvey: $1,350
Marcus McIvor: $1,350
Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock: $1,300
Willie Corrin: $1,050
Matt Alvaro: $1,000
Zach Pochiro: $1,000
Drake Rymsha: $950
Connor Jones: $900
Tyler Busch: $900
Connor Corcoran: $850
Blake Siebenaler: $850
Stephen Harper: $800
Zach Tolkinen: $750
Kellen Jones: $750
Jameson Milam: $750
Jordan Martel: $650
Brad Kennedy: $650
Lynden McCallum: $600
Shawn Boudrias: $550
Jordan Papirny: $550
Joe Masonius: $500
Adam Brubacher: $500