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The Fort Wayne Komets gather for a group picture after winning the Presidents' Cup.

Lockout could bolster roster

In the midst of an NHL lockout – one that may not end anytime soon – the Komets are hopeful it could actually improve the quality of their roster in the ECHL, two rungs below the NHL.

“It’s a very unique situation and you don’t know which way it’s going to go,” general manager David Franke said. “You try to just react accordingly.”

The Komets get on the ice for their first practice Sept. 29.

On Wednesday, they signed defenseman Scott Kishel, who spent the last four years with Minnesota-Duluth and tallied three goals and 29 points in 82 games. The Komets awarded tryouts to nine other players – including goaltender Larkin Saalfrank of Fort Wayne – and that gives them 31 players vying for about 21 spots.

There are a lot of questions about the Komets’ roster, since seven players will begin training camp in the higher-level American Hockey League and since the Komets haven’t yet found a replacement for recently-retired defenseman Frankie DeAngelis.

The NHL lockout could solve those issues, said Franke, whose team won the CHL championship last season, its fourth title in five years. And the recently signed affiliation with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks will mean players are sent to Fort Wayne, too.

“There’s going to be a lot of players available. There will be a lot of borderline ECHL/AHL players from last year that are probably going to have to start the season in the ECHL. They may end up playing there all year,” Franke said. “The lockout is going to make a lot of bodies available in the American League and whatever can’t be absorbed there will come to the ECHL. I think it’s going to make our league, initially, even stronger.

“Now when the NHL goes back to work, some of those advantages maybe go away.”

Forwards Chris Auger, Jean-Michel Rizk and Brandon Marino will start off with Norfolk of the AHL. Defenseman Daniel Maggio will be with Chicago. Goalie Charlie Effinger will be with Grand Rapids. Goalie Kenny Reiter will be with Bridgeport. And defenseman Brent Henley is also expected to be at an AHL camp.

To help fill the void, at least until those players return, the Komets have given tryouts to forwards John Dunbar, Matt Atsoff, Seth Ronsberg and Linus Werneman. Dunbar played last season with Quinnipiac, Atsoff with Brooklyn of the Federal Hockey League, Ronsberg with Alexandria of the North American Hockey League and Werneman was in Sweden.

Also in will be defensemen Nicholas Thommen, who played last season in Sweden, and former Las Vegas player Daniel Nycholat.

Goalies Francois Lacerte, who played last season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and goalie Jeff Rose, who spent most of last season in the Southern Professional Hockey League, will also be in cap with the Komets.

And they will get plenty of time to strut their stuff in preseason games, Oct. 6 and 7 against Evansville at Memorial Coliseum.

Notes: Steve Levy, a longtime ESPN anchor and hockey broadcaster, will be the master of ceremonies at the U.S Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony Oct. 15. Komets broadcaster Bob Chase will get the Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding contributions to hockey in the U.S.

Justin A. Cohn, pro sports coordinator for The Journal Gazette, has been covering the Fort Wayne Komets since 1997. His reporting includes game stories from home and away, features about the players and personalities associated with the Komets, plus coverage of issues affecting hockey at all levels. A native of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Cohn graduated from Emory University in Atlanta. He can be reached at 260-461-8429 or by email at jcohn@jg.net.

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