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Ben Smith

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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Rookie forward Matt Ward will be looked upon to provide an offensive boost for the Komets this season.

High-scoring newcomer to augment K’s offense

So pick one of them out, as they sit around the tables in the Memorial Coliseum’s Red Room. Someone you don’t know. Someone who isn’t one of the Three-Cup Crew. Someone who’s not Guy Dupuis or Nick Boucher or P.C. Drouin, or any of the other Fort Wayne Komets who’ve come back for more.

It’s a new season and a new league with new places to program into the GPS – how do you get to Southaven, Miss., anyway? – so let’s go with that, on this first day of training camp. Let’s head for the table off here to one side, and match a face to a name.

Got a minute, Matt Ward?

“Sure,” he says.

He gets up and you shake hands and, OK, you didn’t just pick him at random, because there are a couple of things you already know about him. One is that he scored 128 points in 100 games at Division III Newman College, where he was teammates with Komets standout Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock. The other is that he scored six points in eight games with Reading of the ECHL last spring.

The kid can score, in other words. And he’s expected to do so for a team that coach Al Sims and general manager David Franke believes will be better offensively than last year’s team, because instead of three or four players who can fill up a net there ought to be a whole pile.

“I think our offense will be more balanced,” Franke says. “And I think that’s good because that spreads the wealth around and it makes it difficult for other teams to match up against you.”

And how does Matt Ward factor into this?

“He’s a hard worker and right now we’re looking at him as being our third line centerman,” Franke says.

This sits just fine with Ward, who would never say it didn’t. This is, after all, his first pro training camp. And it’s with a club that’s won three straight titles, albeit with a league that no longer exists in any practical sense. And, well, it’s Fort Wayne.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking coming to an organization like this, knowing the weight of its tradition and the guys that are here,” Ward says. “You just want to try to fit in.”

And so when you ask him about being looked at as a scorer/playmaker, he says it’s a role he’s “willing to take on.” It’s the sort of thing a guy says when he’s looking at an opportunity he’s been aiming toward since he was 3 or 4, and his dad was pushing him onto the ice up there in tiny Kemptville, Ontario.

It’s the kind of town, Ward says, where you grew up watching “Hockey Night In Canada” and then headed off to the rink, dreaming of being one of those guys you’d just seen on TV. Ward was a forward from the jump (“I really didn’t want to skate backward too much,” he says), and what he brings, he believes, is an eagerness to go where the puck goes.

“I’m not a very big guy,” the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Ward says, “but I’m willing to go to the net, get into the open, or try to find a lane for someone to find me or keep my head up to find a teammate. That’s just the way I’ve always played.”

And it’s why Schrock pushed hard for the Komets to sign him.

“Kaleigh thought (Matt) would be the type of player who would fit in with our club real well,” Franke says. “And if Kaleigh Shrock recommends a player … well, he knows what it takes to win.”

So have a seat, Matt Ward. And find your place.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by e-mail at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648 or at the “Ben Smith” topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net.

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