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Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Komets coach Al Sims conducts practice Tuesday as the team prepares to defend its back-to-back International Hockey League titles.

Champs aim to keep having ‘fun’

The Komets have won back-to-back Turner Cup playoff championships, and they’ve won three consecutive regular-season titles.

It’s logical to wonder whether the team might be complacent, given all these accolades, heading into tonight’s regular-season opener at Dayton.

“You’ve really got to find it within yourself to make sure that (complacency) doesn’t happen,” center Colin Chaulk said. “We’ve got a great team here already. If you want to get ice time, be on the power play, be a go-to guy, you’ve got to make sure you’re playing up to your own standards and the team’s standards.

“That’s hard, for sure. But when you get there and get that feeling of winning a championship, you want to get back there and feel it again. That’s why we play.”

The Komets have the same nucleus that had so much success in the finals in the spring, when they defeated the Muskegon Lumberjacks in a five-game series.

The returnees include forwards P.C. Drouin, Leo Thomas, Rick Varone, Konstantin Shafranov and playoff MVP David Hukalo, defensemen Guy Dupuis and Kevin Bertram, and goaltender Nick Boucher.

The Komets believe their leadership won’t let them down against stiff competition from the rest of the seven-team IHL, which has new teams in Dayton and Moline, Ill., but lost its Kalamazoo, Mich., franchise to the ECHL.

“I’m still nervous for my job every year, nervous that I won’t be on the power play,” said Chaulk, 32.

“I want to make sure I’m in shape, all that kind of stuff. As you get older, you have to realize that younger guys are coming in and trying to take your job.

“When we were young guys, we tried to do that. You have to have that way of thinking to give you that edge.

“Aside from that, we’ve got a room, a group full of guys who are not afraid to speak their minds.

“If anybody gets a little too fat-headed or too cool, we’ve got a number of guys to bring them back down to earth and that helps.”

This isn’t to say the Komets, who are defending back-to-back championships for the first time, haven’t infused some newcomers.

Left wing Matt Syroczynski, who returns to the Komets after a two-year absence, and rookie center Travis Whitehead will have to pick up the scoring slack after the departures of Mathieu Curadeau and Justin Hodgman.

Rookies Kaleigh Schrock, a right wing who hails from Fort Wayne, and Bobby Phillips, a defenseman, will be relied upon heavily.

Goaltender Tim Haun, who spent most of last season in the Southern Professional Hockey League, will back up Boucher and see some playing time.

“There isn’t going to be any complacency here,” said Syroczynski, who won a championship with Cincinnati of the ECHL in 2008.

“There are too many guys here who have been through (the playoff battles), and too many guys who want to keep winning.

“They know that winning is fun. Hockey is fun when you win.”