FORT WAYNE – Since he was hired June 4, the Komets’ head coach, Gary Graham, has watched every game the Komets played last season.
That includes the preseason games.
And there was something he noticed – a lack of competitiveness from the players against the lowly Evansville IceMen.
I went back and watched those games against Evansville and we weren’t physical or even competitive. We weren’t hitting, said Graham, a Fort Wayne native who was a Komets assistant coach from 2008 to 2012. Graham helped Fort Wayne to three championships in the IHL and CHL before he guided Pensacola to the Southern Professional Hockey League championship last season.
So the big thing Graham wants to see from his players beginning today – the first practice of the franchise’s 62nd season is this morning, followed by an afternoon scrimmage – is intensity.
You’ve got to push and shove and battle for jobs, said Graham, who has 28 players vying for about 19 spots.
Here are the other big things to look for this training camp, which will include three exhibition games:
Pressure on Tuzzolino
The Komets have been in search of a legitimate No. 1 defenseman since Frankie DeAngelis retired in the summer of 2012.
They hope that Nick Tuzzolino can be that guy.
A seventh-round draft pick of the New York Islanders in 2005, he played six games for the Komets in the UHL in 2006-07.
Sometimes he’s a prolific scorer – 44 points in 76 games for Flint of the IHL in 2007-08; 31 points in 70 games for Alaska of the ECHL in 2009-10; 36 points in 44 games last season for Utah – and sometimes he’s just a 6-foot-5, 225-pound physical menace. The Komets need him to be both.
Battle for top lines
The Komets believe they have plenty of players who can fill the role of third-line grinder, but they need to make sure they have enough playmakers to man the top two lines.
There are lots of players who look great on paper, such as team MVP Brandon Marino, his former linemate from Quad City, Mickey Lang, the Komets’ 2012 Playoff MVP Mike Vaskivuo, and former Alaska ace Bobby Hughes.
But there won’t be room for everyone, especially since the Komets added Paul McIlveen and Tristan King on Friday. McIlveen had 30 goals and 67 points in 62 games for Utah in 2011-12, and King had 22 goals and 45 points in 52 games last season with Idaho and San Francisco.
Players such as Chris Auger, who was a top-line player for Fort Wayne in 2011-12, and Matthew Larke, are going to have an uphill battle to make the team.
Last season, the Komets’ first in the ECHL, they were an affiliate of the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks and the American Hockey League’s Norfolk Admirals.
It was short-lived and not fruitful for Fort Wayne, which didn’t get sent much talent.
Though they claimed they wanted a new affiliation, it never materialized for the Komets.
Almost no teams go it as independents in the ECHL, but the Komets don’t look as if they are lacking skill because of it.
This doesn’t mean players won’t be called up – keep an eye on goaltenders John Muse and Cody Reichard – but at least the Komets have more control over their roster.
Looking for leaders
Captain Colin Chaulk retired and only four main players are back from last season – Marino, Auger, Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock and Matt Firman.
So who will be the captain? And the alternates?
Smart money may be on Schrock, but he needs to make the team first, and Graham said he’s in no rush to decide who will get letters on their sweaters. He wants to see how it all plays out.
Note: Drew Olson has made the roster with Syracuse of the American Hockey League and won’t be with the Komets as planned today. Fort Wayne maintains his ECHL rights if he’s sent down.