The Fort Wayne Komets had never won back-to-back playoff championships before, but the International Hockey League team achieved that feat last spring by downing the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the Turner Cup Finals.
The Komets' training camp opens Monday at Memorial Coliseum, with 33 players expected to fight for about 20 roster spots. The pressure is on the team to be as successful as it was the past two seasons.
The following are the top 10 storylines to follow as the Komets' 58th season begins.
Can they avoid complacency?
The Komets will have the same nucleus as the last two seasons, including forwards Colin Chaulk, P.C. Drouin and David Hukalo, defenseman Guy Dupuis and goaltender Nick Boucher, and it's only natural to wonder if they might let down after going 102-30-20 the last two seasons.
Who will replace the missing stars?
Despite returning 15 players, the Komets have some key losses, none bigger than forwards Mathieu Curadeau and Justin Hodgman. The pressure is on Matt Syroczynski, back after a two-year absence, to be a force in the corners and in front of the net, and to pick up the scoring slack.
Can David Hukalo repeat last season?
The IHL's reigning playoff MVP, Hukalo is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery that will keep him out at least the first three weeks. Hukalo is a decent scorer and two-time league Best Defensive Forward, and a lingering injury could affect the entire team.
Will the fans get their fisticuffs?
The fans were buzzing with thoughts of seeing Mitch Woods, Brad MacMillan, Blair Stayzer and Kevin Bertram policing the ice, until work commitments made it impossible for Woods to come. The Komets should still be plenty tough – MacMillan and Stayzer combined for 363 penalty minutes last season.
Can Al Sims coach his son?
Nick Boucher is entrenched as the Komets' No. 1 goalie, but Tyler Sims has been brought in as the probable No. 2. Both Tyler and Al say there will be no nepotism. Only time will tell.
Who's going to help Guy Dupuis?
He can't carry the scoring load on the blue line alone, despite having 16 goals and 67 points in 76 games last season. Huntertown native Brandon Warner, in particular, needs to step up on the power play.
Can Rick Varone avoid a slump?
The center was good as a rookie with 23 goals and 55 points in 75 games, but he tailed off down the stretch. By his own admission, he must be more consistent this season.
Will Konstantin Shafranov keep looking young?
Shafranov is coming off a season of 28 goals and 63 points in 60 games, and he's 41. This will likely be his final season. It could be a grand finale.
Will shootouts still be an issue?
Fort Wayne had a 2-9 record in overtime shootouts, and it made things closer than they should have been en route to the regular-season title. With their talent, the Komets should be better in shootouts.
Is the IHL more competitive than last year?
The Kalamazoo Wings are gone to the ECHL, but the Dayton Gems and Quad City Mallards are new members. Seven teams may not be much, but it looks as if a championship will be harder to attain that the last two seasons.