Priority 1 this offseason was replacing Colin Chaulk, who left to play in Italy. The Komets brought back Mathieu Curadeau, who had 68 goals and 124 points for Fort Wayne from 2007 to 2009. He should be a premier center in the Central Hockey League, and hell have to be dominating on offense and defense. Left wing P.C. Drouin, center Leo Thomas and right wing Sean OConnor could all eclipse 30 goals this season. Anticipating the need for speed in the CHL, the Komets brought in former Port Huron teammates Derek Patrosso and Brandon Naurato – they combined for 55 goals and 97 points last season – and Olivier Legault will bring some physical play to the front end. Who will pick up the defensive slack? Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock, mainly. Rookie Matt Ward, who played with Schrock at Neumann University, is expected to do big things as a third-line playmaker. The big problem is the Komets failed to replace playoff MVP Matt Syroczynski, so they are without a potent power forward.
Despite being 40, captain Guy Dupuis still has plenty of game left. The three-time league-wide Defenseman of the Year had 14 goals and 43 points last season. But in a league that will be faster than the IHL, Dupuis must be wary of taking stick-infraction penalties. Frankie DeAngelis made the IHLs all-rookie team last season, tallying nine goals and 41 points. The Komets brought in a physical presence with Craig Cescon, formerly of the Flint Generals. More than anything, the cohesiveness of the Komets blue-liners should pay off. Danko Mironovic, Keith Rodger, Bobby Phillips and Brandon Warner were all here last season when the Komets had the IHLs stingiest defense, allowing 2.41 goals against per game. If Dupuis age shows, DeAngelis and Warner must pick up the slack on special teams.
Nick Boucher was in net when the Komets hoisted the Turner Cup in each of the last three seasons, guiding the team back from 3-1 deficits in two playoff series along the way. He is as formidable a goaltender as there is at this level. He lobbied for, and was granted, the re-signing of Kevin Reiter, who was the IHLs Goaltender of the Year in 2007-08. Though he was hampered by injuries playing in Europe the last two seasons, he spent the summer playing with members of the Pittsburgh Penguins. This should be the CHLs best goaltending tandem.
Al Sims guided the Komets to three straight IHL championships, grooming a lot of young talent along the way. He knows how to get the most from his players. Even if they sometimes dont like the message, theres no disputing the results. He has been particularly good working with defensemen, not surprising since he played that position in the NHL. However, if there are any black marks on his résumé, they came from Sims previous time in the CHL; he was fired in Corpus Christi in 2003 and Fort Worth in 2005. Assistant coach Gary Graham is competent, and he has been given more responsibility in each of the last three years.
The Komets should have the best home-ice advantage in the CHL. They averaged 7,825 fans last season, highest in the IHL or CHL. And they will play 36 of their 66 games at Memorial Coliseum, since three of Evansvilles home games have been moved here. The Komets ranked third on the power play last season (19.7 percent) and first killing penalties (87 percent) in the IHL, and they should put up similar numbers this season, assuming Chaulks roles are filled adequately. Speaking of Chaulk, some player(s) will have to step up and be the leader(s) he was last season. Thats easier said than done.
Prediction: 40-20-6, third overall
– By Justin A. Cohn, The Journal Gazette