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Switch to CHL means big tests

The Komets are accustomed to winning.

In each of their three seasons in the modern IHL, they captured the playoff championship, including last season’s five-game finals victory over the Flint Generals.

But the IHL never had more than seven teams, so anything other than a Turner Cup would have been considered a disappointment in that league.

Tonight, the Komets begin play in the Central Hockey League, which has 18 teams, and is sure to provide a more difficult challenge for Fort Wayne.

“After three championships, it’s been a great ride for us, but we are going in against 17 other teams now,” Komets coach Al Sims said. “It will be a new challenge. Our goals remain the same, but we know it’s going to be a lot tougher go than it was beating five or six other teams. And with 16 teams making the playoffs, upsets are bound to happen.”

It used to be a popular topic of conversation, particularly among fans and players, whether the caliber of play in the IHL measured up to that in the CHL, both AA-level circuits. Tonight’s game between the Komets and the CHL-champion Rapid City Rush at Memorial Coliseum will be the first step toward settling that debate.

Four teams from the IHL – Fort Wayne, Bloomington, Dayton and Quad City – are part of the CHL, which will play a 66-game schedule.

“We’re the defending champions coming from the IHL, so I’m sure we’ll have a bull’s-eye on our backs every game we play, not only from the IHL teams, but also the CHL teams,” Komets general manager David Franke said. “I think this (move) is kind of exciting. I think it will get the players revved up more to be playing a different number of teams. I expect the competition to be stiff and it will be harder.”

The Komets returned a familiar lineup for this season.

Fourteen players have played for the team before, highlighted by forwards P.C. Drouin and Mathieu Curadeau, defenseman Guy Dupuis and goaltender Nick Boucher.

However, to adapt to the younger, faster, more physical CHL, the Komets brought in faster players Derek Patrosso and Brandon Naurato, defenseman Craig Cescon and enforcer Olivier Legault.

Despite losing a franchise great, Colin Chaulk, who opted to play in Italy this season, and parting ways with offensive playmakers such as Konstantin Shafranov, Matt Syroczynski and Justin Hodgman, Sims said the Komets should have more offensive depth this season.

And the defense will remain the bread and butter of the Komets, who ranked first in the IHL, giving up 2.41 goals against per game last season. That defense will be aided by Boucher, who was in net for all three Turner Cups, and Kevin Reiter, who was the IHL’s Goaltender of the Year in 2007-08.

There is recognition that winning a championship will be more difficult in the CHL, but after recovering from 3-1 series deficits in two of the last three playoffs, the Komets believe their determination proves they can handle the bigger test.

“Our goal is still to win the championship,” said Dupuis, the Komets’ captain. “But with the mathematics there, it will be tougher. We’ll have to win four rounds to win it all. It will be more difficult come playoff time. But the last three years in the IHL, it was no cakewalk and when our backs were against the wall, that’s when we were at our best.

“Hopefully, this year we’ll be able to do the same. When push comes to shove in the playoffs, we’ve brought our best, and that’s what we’re planning to do this year, too. But one step at a time. … Hopefully, all that talent we’ve got on paper will mesh good, and we’ll have chemistry and a really solid team in the regular season.”