The Komets ruled their time in the modern IHL, winning a playoff championship all three seasons it was around. Today, training camp opens for the Komets’ 59th season, their first in the Central Hockey League, and the following are the key questions that must be answered this season:
Who will lead?
Center Colin Chaulk spent seven of the last eight years in Fort Wayne, cementing his reputation as one of the franchises’ all-time greats as a scorer, defensive forward and leader.
Chaulk opted to play in Italy this season.
While center Mathieu Curadeau can handle the top-line scoring, and Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock can be a reliable defensive forward, it’s unclear who will fill the leadership void.
Veterans P.C. Drouin and Guy Dupuis, the team captain, have solid track records as leaders, but neither is particularly vocal. Curadeau and center Leo Thomas have expressed the desire to chip in. Schrock, forward Sean O’Connor and goaltender Nick Boucher will have to lead by example, too.
If no one steps up, the Komets will be a rudderless ship.
Is there enough speed?
The biggest difference between the CHL and the IHL is speed. Composed of younger players and more high-level prospects – 65 CHL players got tryouts in the American Hockey League this year – the pace of play should be different.
Offensively, the Komets made the necessary adjustments with the additions of Curadeau, Derek Patrosso, Brandon Naurato and Matt Ward. All will complement the speed of Thomas, Schrock and O’Connor.
At the blue line, it could be a different story.
The Komets’ 2.41 goals against per game was the best in the IHL, but the 40-year-old Dupuis, partner Danko Mironovic and the rest of the defensemen must prove they won’t be caught slow-footed.
Is there enough toughness?
The Komets made bold decisions by not trying to retain tough guys Brad MacMillan, Mitch Woods and Kevin Bertram in the offseason, especially heading into a league that is known for physical play.
Believing they would need an enforcer, the Komets brought back 6-foot-5, 238-pound Olivier Legault, who spent 16 games last season with Kalamazoo of the ECHL. Legault has shown he can fight, but in his two previous seasons with Fort Wayne (2007 to 2009), he struggled to crack the lineup and gain a regular shift.
Look for rookie defenseman Brad Pawlowski to also make waves as an enforcer, while Schrock and defenseman Craig Cescon will have to police the ice, too.
Is the goal scoring going to be there?
Coach Al Sims believes the Komets will score more than last season, when they averaged 3.46 goals per game.
The Komets replaced Chaulk, Konstantin Shafranov, David Hukalo and Justin Chwedoruk, who combined for 74 goals last season, with Curadeau, Patrosso and Naurato, who combined for 79 goals.
But who will fill the void left by the departure of Matt Syroczynski, who had 30 goals in the regular season and 11 when he was the Playoff MVP? Ward had better step up.
Will the goalies keep it up?
During their stint in the IHL, the Komets’ goaltending was always sound. Each season, they had the IHL’s Goaltender of the Year – Kevin Reiter in 2007-08, Boucher in 2008-09 and Tim Haun last season.
The tandem this season will be Reiter and Boucher, and the Komets believe they will have the best netminding in the CHL. With the Komets facing 17 other teams this season, instead of six, the goalies will have to remain solid. Otherwise, the odds of winning another Cup drop significantly.