One might think Fort Wayne Komets coach Al Sims would be all praise when it comes to his leading scorer, Luciano Aquino.
Quite the contrary.
Oftentimes, Sims has harsh criticism for his star, mixed in with praise, but that comes with the territory for a player like Aquino, a right wing, because expectations of him are always so high.
With two goals, Aquino looked to be the star of the 5-2 victory over Kalamazoo on Saturday. But Sims was more focused on Aquino’s early high-sticking penalty, the misconduct penalty he took for arguing that call and a penalty for having too many men on the ice he caused.
“A lot of negatives come with the positives. It kind of shows, I think ‘maturity’ is the word you have to use with him,” Sims said. “Certainly, he’s a force at this level and one of the leading scorers in the league. He wants to get back to the next level and is trying to go about it the right way and I’m doing what I can to help him.”
Aquino, who leads the team in goals (19) and points (39), knows Sims criticizes him frequently. Aquino doesn’t expect or want to be coddled, so he’s fine with it.
“I don’t know if he’s a perfectionist, but he expects a lot out of me and my line,” Aquino said. “I can’t complain about him. He’s been good to me. Every coach is different and you just have to know Al and his type. He keeps me on my toes. He gives me a kick in the butt when I’m not doing well and he also gives me a kick in the butt when I’m (rolling).”
Aquino, 22, was selected by the New York Islanders in the seventh round of the 2005 NHL entry draft and is in the last year of a contract with them. He has played 22 games at the AAA-level American Hockey League and last season had eight goals and 28 points in 31 games with Utah of the AA-tier ECHL.
But the Islanders didn’t foresee a future for Aquino in their organization, which is how he wound up in Fort Wayne, which leads the AA-level International Hockey League with a 21-8-4 record.
“It happens to a lot of players where you get stuck in a (NHL’s team’s) system. You think you deserve a chance to play and they don’t give you a chance,” Aquino said. “God’s honest truth, I don’t even worry about getting called up. I don’t even care. Hockey is a game you can’t control. There are so many good players who are in the NHL and so many bad players who are. It’s all about work and that’s what I’ll do.”
He’ll get another chance tonight, when the Komets play in Bloomington, Ill., against the league-worst Prairie Thunder (11-19-3).
And as the season progresses, he has a chance to complete one of the finest statistical seasons by a Fort Wayne player since the team dropped from the AAA to the AA level in the summer of 1999.
The most goals scored by Fort Wayne players since then were 48 by Bobby Stewart in the championship season of 2002-03 and 43 by J.C. Ruid last season. The most points since 1999 were Colin Chaulk’s 96 in 2003-04 and the 94 tallied by Keli Corpse in 1999-2000 and Ruid last season.
Aquino is on pace for 44 goals and 90 points.