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vs. Dayton
When: 7:30 p.m. today
Radio: 1190 AM
Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
The Komets’ David Hukalo, left, has been out since Jan. 8 with a torn muscle in his back. He is expected to return soon.

Hukalo ready to get on ice after injury

Komets forward David Hukalo craves a wardrobe change these days the way a fat man craves a drive-through.

He can’t wait to come to a game night turned out in skates and pads and that lovely jersey with the orange fireball on the front, instead of – ugh – a Windsor knot and shoe leather. Street clothes are OK, but there’s a limit, and Hukalo’s reached it.

“I’m a patient guy,” he says. “But you can only be patient for so long.”

And so the good news these days is his patience won’t have to be tested much longer.

Out since Jan. 8 with a torn muscle in his back that only rest could heal, he began skating about a month ago. He has been skating hard for three weeks or so, and this week was cleared to practice with full contact again. Komets coach Al Sims expects him to be back either this weekend or next week.

Just in time, according to everyone involved.

“Having to watch games – just sit out and watching them, you know, for seven weeks – that gets to you,” says Hukalo, who missed 19 games at the beginning of the season while offseason shoulder surgery healed, and has played in only 22 games total. “It’s been awful this year. Start of the year, having to get back into it from a major injury; … that took a lot of time and a lot of patience on my part to get back into the game. Then I come back, start playing well, and then get hurt again. It’s frustrating.”

No more for him than for Sims, whose usually stingy team has given up 13 goals in its last three games on Memorial Coliseum ice – a cause for at least mild concern as the Komets ramp up for the stretch run.

“It’s a combination of the goaltender all the way out to the forwards,” Sims said after last week’s 6-5 victory over Flint. “We’ve got to focus on it in practice and drill it into their heads. We’ve got a lot of home games coming up, and we need to start shutting teams down at home like we have on the road or we’re not gonna have much success.”

Getting Hukalo back should certainly help the shutting-down process. Perennially one of the league’s top defensive forwards, he also had career highs in goals, assists and points last year and was the MVP of the Turner Cup playoffs.

“He’s a guy that helps your offense and your defense,” says Sims, whose team opens a stretch of four games in five nights tonight with a home date against Dayton. “And he’s a character guy. He plays with his heart, and it would be big to get him back.”

Hukalo will definitely second that.

“This is new for me, to be out twice in a season,” he says.

And not in a good way.

Note: Komets goaltender Tim Haun has been named the Meijer IHL Goaltender of the Month for February.

Haun went 5-1-0 with a 1.95 goals-against and a .933 save percentage in just under 400 minutes. In his six decisions, he never gave up more than two goals in a game.