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vs. Dayton
When: 7:30 p.m. today
Where: Memorial Coliseum
Radio: None
Clint Keller | The Journal Gazette
Snider grad Kaleigh Schrock runs drills during the Komets’ their first preseason practice Monday at the Coliseum.

Homegrown Komets fan now skating out a dream

The names come easily to Kaleigh Schrock, as they do to any Fort Wayne kid who grew up bleeding orange and black.

“We had (Komets) season tickets when I was growing up,” he says, before stepping onto the ice for the first time as a prospective Komet. “I spent a lot of time here watching players like Vladimir Tsyplakov, Colin Chin, Scott Gruhl, all those guys.”

And Al Sims?

Yeah, he spent a lot of time watching him, too, especially back in 1993 when Sims’ Komets ran the table in the playoffs, sweeping the San Diego Gulls in the finals. Schrock was 9 years old then.

He’d been playing hockey since he was 6, and if already he dreamed his dreams, none of them prepared him for the reality of picking up the phone one day this spring at Neumann College in Pennsylvania, where he’d just captained the hockey team to a Division III national championship.

Sims himself was on the other end of the line.

“It was really surreal,” Schrock recalls. “I didn’t know what to think. Just to have them calling me. … I know I probably wanted to come out and try out for the team, but to have them call me, that meant a lot.”

It meant Schrock had turned up on Sims’ well-modulated radar, and not just because he was a local kid who grew up playing travel hockey at McMillen and high school hockey at Snider. He’d turned up because he was exactly the sort of player who fit the Komets’ template: A blue-collar type with skills who led by example and wasn’t overly preoccupied with numbers.

“I’m definitely a role player,” says Schrock, who turns 25 on Oct. 17. “I’m not afraid to fight every once in a while. I rely a lot on my speed, and I definitely don’t try to play outside of my own abilities. I try to keep it simple.”

As happens with almost any player who shows promise, Schrock played for Snider his sophomore year, then packed his bags. In the next four years he played Triple-A hockey in Fort Wayne and Dayton, played a year of junior hockey in Grand Rapids and another in Toledo, then wound up at Neumann College, where he played for a national title in the same building made famous by the “Miracle On Ice.”

“It was a great experience,” Schrock says. “Got to go to Lake Placid and play where the ’80 Olympic team played. Got to stay in the Olympic Village.

“When I went to Neumann, they just really weren’t on the map as far as the hockey world was concerned, and now they are. So I felt like I accomplished a lot there.”

What he hopes to accomplish here, obviously, is to stick out enough to, well, stick. Sims welcomed 33 skaters to camp Monday; he’ll keep roughly 20.

He initially invited Schrock to skate a few games late last season, but Neumann’s athletic director persuaded Schrock to focus on getting his degree first.

He signed early in the summer, then went off to spend a month coaching kids at a hockey camp in Vermont.

“That was a good experience, because there were other professional players there, and a lot of them played in Europe,” Schrock says. “I got to skate with them every night. It was a good time.”

And now the focusing really begins.

“My plan is not to try to do too much,” Schrock says. “Just try to have fun, beat guys to loose pucks, protect the puck and keep it simple.”

It’s working so far.

Notes: Sims will play mostly rookies tonight. … He expects to make the first round of cuts Sunday night or Monday.