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The Journal Gazette

Friday, October 06, 2017 8:20 pm

Newcomers get chance to shine

3 exhibitions give Komets coach time to assess talent

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

The Komets have 26 players on their roster, vying for about 19 spots, not an unseemly number for coach Gary Graham to get through before the team’s 66th season opener Oct. 14 at Memorial Coliseum against the Toledo Walleye.

But Graham doesn’t want to make the wrong decisions and, to help make sure he doesn’t, he’ll have plenty of game situations to get a look at the players battling for jobs.

The Komets play the first of their preseason games tonight at Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis and complete the home-and-home series with the Indy Fuel on Saturday at Memorial Coliseum. On Monday, they will finish their exhibition slate at Memorial Coliseum against the Kalamazoo Wings.

“As an organization and a staff, we’re blessed. I think we’re the only team that’s got three exhibition games. That’s a lot of hockey for us to take a look at guys,” Graham said. “We’ll also dress 20 guys so we’ll have four forward lines and six defensemen in all three of those exhibition games. Some of our guys don’t need as much exhibition (play) because they’ve been playing in the American Hockey League, and we’ll get them the proper rest that they need after a tough American League camp, but there’s plenty of hockey for these guys (to prove themselves).”

The players who returned from AHL camps include goaltender Alex Sakellaropoulos, defensemen Cody Sol, Bobby Shea and Jason Binkley, and forwards Dennis Kravchenko, Marc-Olivier Roy and Gabriel Desjardins.

Tonight’s game will be the best chance for the newcomers, including rookies such as defensemen Mitch Nylen and Blake Thompson, to make an impression. Sakellaropoulos, Michael Houser, Garrett Bartus and Sean Bonar, who are competing for the two goaltending spots, will have to look particularly sharp in preseason action.

Since becoming the coach in 2013, Graham hasn’t been afraid to gamble with training camp decisions. Not only did he give Kyle Thomas a surprise roster spot – and he went on to become arguably Fort Wayne’s best player the past two seasons – but he also cut Angelo Esposito and P.J. Fenton, the latter was even a Fort Wayne resident.

“You’d like to surpass what you accomplished the season before. Last year, we came up short and, obviously, we have one goal in mind and that’s to win a championship. So going into this season, at the end of the whole shebang, we’d like to win a championship,” said forward Garrett Thompson, who is entering his third season with the team.

“There’s a lot of building that leads up to that and a lot of growth within the team. Like Gary said (Sunday) in our (pre-camp) meeting at the hotel, ‘At the start of training camp, you want to win those first games in the preseason and that translates to how your season goes.’ (You want) the right attitude and the right mindset, to be a good pro, and continuing to try and achieve that goal.”

Note: The ECHL unveiled a new format for the All-Star Game on Jan. 15 in Indianapolis. Four teams, one representing each division, will compete in a 3-on-3 tournament. There will be a skills competition after the semifinals. Each game will consist of two seven-minute periods. Teams will have seven players – four forwards, two defensemen and one goalie – and they will be chosen by ECHL coaches.