FORT WAYNE – On Monday, the Komets will open training camp for their 59th season and their first in the Central Hockey League.
Eleven players return from last season’s championship squad, not including forwards Mathieu Curadeau and Olivier Legault, who spent a year away playing in the ECHL.
The familiarity between coaches and players will help ease the transition from IHL to CHL, head coach Al Sims said.
Having 11 guys back, which I think is about what we’ve had probably (each of) the last three years, it helps in that regard of them knowing the systems, like the penalty kill and the power play, said Sims, who guided the Komets to three straight championships in the IHL.
The guys know what to expect from me, and I know what to expect from them.
For half the team, it bodes well, and it makes it easier for the other guys to acclimate to things.
The IHL had seven teams last season, when the Komets averaged a franchise-record 7,825 fans per game.
Three other IHL teams – Bloomington, Dayton and Quad City – made the jump to the CHL, which will have 18 franchises for its 64-game schedule.
The Komets failed to re-sign franchise great Colin Chaulk and Playoff MVP Matt Syroczynski.The move to a more cost-conscious, younger league prompted team officials not to pursue several players, including former NHLer Konstantin Shaf-ranov, standout defensive forward David Hukalo, IHL Goaltender of the Year Tim Haun and longtime defenseman Kevin Bertram.
Still, Sims believes the offense will be better this season, while the defense will remain the Komets’ strength.
The Komets ranked second offensively in the IHL last season with 3.46 goals per game, while they rated first in defense by allowing 2.41 goals per game.
We’ve got three lines that can do damage this season, Sims said. Last season, we had to win a lot of games 2-1 and keep other teams’ scores down.
Hopefully, the defense will stay the same and the offense will pick (it) up a lot this year.
Five players are currently at training camps with higher-level American Hockey League teams – forwards Curadeau, Derek Patrosso and Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock, defenseman Craig Cescon and goaltender Kevin Reiter – though all of them are expected back before the regular-season opener Oct. 16 at Memorial Coliseum against CHL-champion Rapid City.
Curadeau, slated to be the Komets’ No. 1 center, is the most crucial of them.
Mathieu is very pivotal for us, general manager David Franke said.
When Colin Chaulk decided to go play in Italy, we immediately got ahold of Mathieu.
We know him as a player and as a person. He will come in and be the No. 1-line center.
I expect him to relish that job.
We know what Mathieu is all about, on and off the ice. You’re never going to totally replace Colin Chaulk, but Mathieu was as good a player out there as there was to try and replace Chaulker.
The fans will get their first look at the new Komets on Thursday, when the Komets play an exhibition game against visiting Dayton.
The Komets will skate another preseason tilt Saturday at Dayton.