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Camp opens for K's with excitement

The 61st Komets training camp opened at Memorial Coliseum with the excitement and expectations you would expect from last season's CHL champs. Video by, Justin A. Cohn

Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Komets coach Al Sims writes plays on the board Saturday morning at Memorial Coliseum during opening day of Komets’ camp.

Camp a bit different for defending champs

– For the 61st time in their history, the Komets opened training camp at Memorial Coliseum.

For the ninth time, they did so having the expectations that come after they just won a championship.

But for the first time, they took to the ice as members of the ECHL, a AA-level tier of minor-league hockey with 23 teams.

“The offseason is always fun when you win a championship,” said coach Al Sims, whose Komets won the CHL title last year after winning IHL titles in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

“It was a short offseason because we were playing all the way to the end (in the spring), but this is an exciting time. We’re going to a new league, and we’ve got new players trying to make the hockey team. It’s a real exciting time of the year in training camp.”

The Komets had two separate practices because they have so many players – 28, not including the seven players currently in camps with teams in the higher-level American Hockey League.

Saturday’s skates were light, but they will be ramped up today when the team begins morning practices and then afternoon scrimmages.

“(General manager David Franke) and Simmer had some conversations with me about not killing guys the first day because some guys have been off the ice for two or three days and you don’t want to come the first day and blast them,” said captain Colin Chaulk, who has won five championships with Fort Wayne since 2003. “There’s new equipment – gloves, sticks – and you ease them in the first day and then it’s hard at work tomorrow with two-a-days.”

There was a lot of acclimating that went on Saturday, as many players were meeting for the first time, learning the intricacies of the Coliseum ice and getting accustomed to the ECHL-required Reebok equipment.

Only five players – forwards Chaulk, Brett Smith, Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock and Stephon Thorne, plus goaltender Gerry Festa – were with the Komets last season.

Forwards Chris Auger and Jean-Michel Rizk, and defensemen Daniel Maggio and Brent Henley, all expected returnees, are in the AHL.

“We’re definitely going to miss some of those characters from last year, but that’s the way this goes,” Smith said. “You bring in new guys, new characters, all sorts of different guys with different experiences, and with the core group we have, I have no doubt we can bring this all together and make it work again.”

No one seemed concerned about making the transition to the ECHL, even though more NHL prospects will be in the league. There could be more prospects than usual if the NHL remains locked out.

“It’s still just hockey,” Smith said.

“You might get some young guys who are a little quicker, but when push comes to shove, if you have guys who are willing to lay it all out there and just work hard, it’s just another game.”

It was too early to get a feel of players that look good or did not, Chaulk said, but players will start to stand out at today’s afternoon scrimmage.

“You can look great in practice, but as the old saying goes, you’ve got to do it in the games, right?” Chaulk said.

Note: Gary Graham, the former Komets assistant and recently named coach of Pensacola in the Southern Professional Hockey League, and Marc LeFebvre, coach of Dayton of the Federal Hockey League, assisted Sims on Saturday.