FORT WAYNE – Komets captain Colin Chaulk loves a good challenge.
So he’s excited about the prospect of taking on the ECHL, the league the Komets joined Thursday, assuming he decides to stave off retirement another year and gets a contract offer from the team.
It gets my blood pumping thinking about it, Chaulk said.
There were plenty of doubters when the Komets left the seven-team IHL for the CHL in 2010, with three straight Turner Cups in tow. And the Komets stunk up the league for a spell, sitting in last place until February 2011.
Chaulk had detoured to Europe for the first three months of that season and after his return, the Komets reached the 2011 conference finals and won the CHL’s Presidents’ Cup on May 7.
I was a big believer that, psychologically, the (2010-11) team was done before they even started and that was the problem early that year, Chaulk said. But we went on to prove everyone wrong, so to speak.
The Komets have coach Al Sims under contract for next season but not a single player has been signed. The team expects to bring back a strong nucleus from its championship team, even though the NHL-affiliated ECHL is stocked with younger and faster players than the CHL.
Sims mentioned that players like rookies Jean-Michel Rizk, Stephon Thorne and Bryant Molle perfectly fit the ECHL mold, and he said the 35-year-old Chaulk and goalie Nick Boucher, the 31-year-old team MVP, would be fine in the ECHL.
Sims, 59, has won five championships with Fort Wayne dating to 1993, including four in the last five seasons.
Winning a championship this season was great for us, said Sims, who coached expansion Reading of the ECHL to a 27-36-9 record in 2001-02. It’s great to be going after one in a different league again. This is the last league in AA hockey I haven’t won one, and it would be great to do it.
The Kelly Cup finals are taking place between the Florida Everblades and the Las Vegas Wranglers.
Fort Wayne would match up fine with either team, the Komets believe, and there will be a target on the backs of the Komets, who haven’t missed the playoffs since 2002 and have won nine championships in 60 years.
They’ve always had competitive teams in Fort Wayne, ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna said, and the fact that they won the championship and are coming over, it will be neat for the players here, the fans in Fort Wayne and add a little challenge to some of our teams to see how they stack up next fall when they play the Komets.
Chaulk, who last played in the ECHL in 2001-02, said some players will be excited about playing in a league that’s a AA-level feeder for the NHL. Others, though, will have to be careful if the Komets sign an agreement with an NHL team.
If there’s an affiliation put into place, the players have to be mindful of that, Chaulk said. If you’re a goalie with six or seven years experience, and you’re not the No. 1 and sign with the Komets, they might get someone sent down through an affiliation agreement, and maybe it’s not a smart place for you to go.
If you’re a tweener, a guy that’s the eighth or ninth forward and can’t find a steady line or role, you might get pushed out. The coach may want you, but he can be handcuffed by the big club.
This season, 23 former ECHL players made their debuts in the NHL, and Chaulk promised the play will be faster in the ECHL. But he doesn’t think there should be much of an adjustment problem, especially after the lessons the Komets learned when they moved from the IHL to the CHL.
After you’re in something for a week or two, and you get up to speed, it becomes all the same. That’s how I feel, said Chaulk, who has played on four championship teams with Fort Wayne since 2003.