Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Komets players stretch out during the team's first practice Monday at Memorial Coliseum.
Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Bob Chase’s wife, Murph Wallenstein, and children, David Wallenstein and Karin Thomsen, unveil the new sign designating the circle drive at Memorial Coliseum as Bob Chase Way.
Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Forward Ralph Cuddemi is one of the new players with the Komets.
Tuesday, October 03, 2017 1:00 am
Komets open camp
Players get history lesson
Bob Chase Way dedicated, many of team's greats at opening luncheon
JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette
Playing for the Komets involves recognizing the history and successes of the past as much as evolving to chase that next championship. That was the case Monday, when training camp opened for the 66th season of professional hockey at Memorial Coliseum.
From the morning dedication of the circle drive outside the Coliseum as Bob Chase Way, in honor of the beloved broadcaster who died on Thanksgiving, to the presence of franchise icons Len Thornson, Chuck Adamson, George Drysdale, Norm Waslawski and Robbie Irons at the opening luncheon, no new player could escape what's expected of him this season. That would be a good chase at a first ECHL championship, which would be the 10th championship in franchise history.
“We've gotten close to a championship here in the last couple years but just not as close as we'd like to,” said forward Shawn Szydlowski, whose team had the fourth best record in the league last season but fell in the second round of the playoffs to the rival Toledo Walleye. “We've had a strong team ever since I've been here. There are a lot of guys returning and a lot of guys that I know. I have confidence that we're going to be a good team again and that's our goal.”
Only 18 players were there for the start of camp, but the roster was up to 24 by Monday night after the American Hockey League's Tucson Roadrunners, one step higher in the Arizona Coyotes' minor league system, released Gabriel Desjardins, Cody Sol and Dennis Kravchenko from tryouts. The Roadrunners also assigned goaltender Michael Houser and defenseman Ryan Culkin to Fort Wayne.
Captain Jamie Schaafsma missed Monday's opening day because of illness.
“Today's skate will be more about conditioning and getting into more of a flow, breaking them in to the Coliseum ice and we'll start evaluating guys,” coach Gary Graham said before the first on-ice session.
The Komets have only one player still in an AHL camp, defenseman Curtis Leonard who is with the Chicago Wolves.
Fort Wayne's roster has a bevy of players back from last season: goalie Garrett Bartus, defensemen Sol, Jason Binkley, Bobby Shea and Ryan Lowney, and forwards Szydlowski, Schaafsma, Desjardins, Taylor Crunk, Mason Baptista and Garrett Thompson. Forward Justin Hodgman and goalie Sean Bonar have previous experience with the Komets, too.
Along with the new affiliation with the Coyotes, the Komets' approach to building their roster has changed.
“Offensively, I want a team that's going to get to the net more,” Graham said. “I thought we were a little too much perimeter last year and if you look at guys like (Ralph) Cuddemi, (Tyson) Fawcett, Hodgman and Kravchenko, these are very skilled players but also known for getting to the net and known for not passing up shots.”
The defense will look different, too.
“Defensively, we addressed the skating,” Graham said. “We wanted to get a little bit smaller but also quicker. Our D corps is not as big and heavy as it was last year, but for breaking out pucks and getting to more of an NHL-style game, quicker and being more involved in that play, we'll be better in that department.”
Houser played last season with Cincinnati of the ECHL, going 22-14-1 with a 2.58 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage and two shutouts. The Komets have four goalies, including rookie Alex Sakellaropoulos. Culkin, a fifth-round draft pick of the NHL's Calgary Flames in 2012, was scoreless in 19 games last season with Stockton of the AHL and had one goal and 12 points in 16 games with Adirondack of the ECHL.