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Ben Smith

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Komets scrimmage Day 2

The second day of the Komets' 2013-13 season featured a scrimmage. Here are highlights.

New coach, new faces: K’s new day

– Simon Danis-Pepin, that’s the man’s name. And here is something new on a day that never seems new, really – that carries a vibe of cozy permanence with all the old-timers about and Bob Chase back there, too, same as he’s been for the last 61 years.

But that is not Al Sims up there at the microphone this time, calling Simon Danis-Pepin’s name.

And Danis-Pepin isn’t the same-old, same-old, either, not when you look over there and see him unfolding from his chair like an extension ladder, standing up and up and up.

Six-feet-seven and 240 pounds, the training camp roster claims. And it ain’t lyin’.

It ain’t lyin’ about Nick Tuzzolino, either, all 6-6 and 225 pounds of him. Or Nik Pokulok, 6-5 and 225. Or any of the other defensemen new head coach Gary Graham has brought in, only one of whom (William Lacasse) tips the scales at fewer than 200 pounds – and that just barely, because Lacasse weighs in at 195.

“Up front we got more skill and speed, and we got more size on the back end,” Graham reports. “Those were the big picture things we were trying to address.”

And the even bigger picture?

This feels much more like starting over than last year did, even if last year the Komets were doing just that after 60 winters on the ice.

They turned the page to a new league with a new dynamic, but so many of the faces were the same it seemed as if the address was the only thing that had changed. Al Sims was still behind the bench. Colin Chaulk still wore the “C” on his sweater. The formula that won four titles in five seasons in the CHL and IHL 2.0 still seemed comfortably in place.

And then the season began – and everyone quickly discovered that the ECHL was an utterly different animal, that it was a developmental league in more than just name and the days were gone when players would see Fort Wayne not as the ladder itself but merely one rung of it.

And then came Monday, and here was Graham getting up to introduce the players, and, finally, here was the new day that last year only pretended to be.

“It’s not just players who want to get to the next level here,” says forward Brandon Marino, one of the holdovers from a year ago. “That’s Gary’s goal, also. So he’s gonna do everything he can and be very passionate.”

And realize, at the same time, that the permanence of the franchise depends now on the impermanence of the players who populate it. Over and over, on Monday, as he introduced Danis-Pepin and Tuzzolino and Mickey Lang and Tristan King and all the rest, he talked about doing whatever he could to get them to the next level. He talked about all the speed he and general manager David Franke have brought in. He talked about all the size they’ve brought to the backline, and scorers too, like Rob Kwiet and Tuzzolino and Lacasse.

It’s a new team and a new vibe and it feels, a year into it, like an ECHL camp.

“It’s a clean slate for everybody,” said forward Mike Vaskivuo, who left the Komets for Europe after the 2011-12 season and comes back now to a new coach, a new league and a dressing room minus Chaulk and pile of others. “I knew coming in the faces aren’t gonna be the same at all this year. It doesn’t really matter what you did in your past here. It’s a clean slate and we all got to jell together pretty quickly here and get this ball rollin’.”

No time like the present for that.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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