The Komets opened training camp on their 62nd season Sunday. And, even on the first day, things were evident at Memorial Coliseum.
The biggest: This team is fast.
“It was fast, and that’s good,” said forward Brandon Marino, who was selected as the team’s MVP last season, when it missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
“The first 20 minutes of the (afternoon) scrimmage were pretty choppy. But the best thing about it was it was fast. It’s been fast all day. The second half showed what we will have this year; we were moving faster and moving the puck better.”
There were two morning practices – the 28 players were divided into two sessions – and the White Team’s 3-0 victory in the scrimmage included goals from defenseman Jeremy Gates on an odd-man rush, forward Kyle Bochek on a shot from the left circle and forward John Dunbar on a breakaway.
“We really like what we’ve seen,” said Gary Graham, in his first season as the Komets’ head coach. “The puck possession and the speed, the size on the back end – the things that we really felt were important to address this offseason; we’re really heading in a good positive direction.
“But it’s all about chemistry. These guys have got to start figuring out how to play with one another and the (defensive) pairings have to start handling pressure. But I really like that we put in some things in practice this morning and we’ve already seen guys try to put those things into practice in the game. Guys are already trying to think the game the way we’re trying to teach it.”
Asked who stood out to him, Graham lauded, in particular, newcomer forwards Mickey Lang and Paul McIlveen, as well as 2012 Playoff MVP Mike Vaskivuo.
“(And defenseman) Nick Tuzzolino, I really liked the fact that he was vocal. You can definitely tell that Nick is a guy who has been a leader on past teams. And I really like that. He’s communicating with his team and asking questions in practice, which is a positive sign being an older guy.”
For the 7 to 10 players who don’t make the team, they were practicing in front of three other coaches – Brian Gratz of Bloomington (Southern Professional Hockey League), Rod Aldoff of Pensacola (SPHL) and Jack Collins, an assistant coach with Dayton (Federal Hockey League.)
The players will have plenty of opportunities to shine with daily scrimmages and three exhibition games, the first coming Wednesday in Wheeling, W.Va.
“We are looking for some more out of some guys,” Graham said. “There’s no doubt that there will be some tough decisions. Some guys will get talked to (this) morning and we’ll try to get better out there each day.”
There were already some minor injuries – to defenseman Kyle Follmer (groin) and Vaskivuo (undisclosed).
“We’ve got to get some chemistry with some guys and see who will stick,” Marino said. “But overall, camp is tenfold faster than last year. I’m looking forward to guys getting more comfortable and really making plays.”
Goaltender John Muse made the most saves in his 20 minutes of play in the scrimmage. Max Strang also didn’t allow a goal. Cody Reichard allowed one and Larkin Saalfrank allowed two.
And there was a good amount of hitting.
“That was the biggest thing about last year’s training camp that we wanted to address,” said Graham, who won the SPHL title with Pensacola last season.
“It’s not about fighting. It’s about being tough and finishing your checks, making things difficult on your opponent. That’s what we want to do as a team.”