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The Journal Gazette

  • Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Komets rookie defenseman Chase Stewart gets in a scrum with Kalamazoo's Alex Mikulovich during a game at Memorial Coliseum.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018 1:00 am

Hard-hitting rookie Stewart earns K's kudos

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Fans of the Komets might be forgiven for thinking that Taylor Crunk, a favorite of theirs the last few seasons, had a doppelgänger at Memorial Coliseum. It wasn't just Chase Stewart's burly beard; the big checks and scrums with opposing teams may have caused some confusion.

“Walking the halls, even walking around Fort Wayne, I'd hear: 'Oh, is that Crunk? That's Crunk!' I had to explain to people, 'No, we just look a lot alike.' ”

Stewart's magnificent goal Friday – he netted a slap shot at the end of a 2-on-1 rush in overtime to cement a 3-2 come-from-behind victory over rival Toledo – ensured fans will be more careful to keep their Stewarts and their Crunks straight.

A rookie out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Stewart has accrued three goals, six points, 27 penalty minutes, three fights, myriad blocked shots and several hits for the Komets (10-9-0), who play the Wheeling Nailers (7-10-1) at 7 p.m. Friday in West Virginia.

Komets coach Gary Graham had coveted Stewart all summer but didn't get him signed until the first day of training camp Oct. 1.

“I had my hooks in him all summer,” Graham said, adding he had to be patient as Stewart went to camp with Belleville of the American Hockey League.

“I'll never forget it. His agent called me and said, 'Do you want him?' I said, 'Get him packed and send him this way.' He's a great young defenseman with a lot of potential.”

Stewart, 21, came out of Belleville's camp knowing the biggest thing he needed to work on was his skating.

“I need to work on my speed,” he said. “Obviously, my foot speed is not the best part of my game. But I'm working on that every day.”

Toughness, though, isn't a problem. He racked up 132 penalty minutes – second most in the QMJHL last season – for the Rimouski Oceanic. He also had five goals and 29 points.

“Obviously, the main part of my game is physicality and sticking up for my teammates,” Stewart said.

“But my last year of juniors, I found a stride moving forward offensively and the coaches are letting me go with it here.”

While few in the ECHL have wanted to fight even a rookie with his track record, Stewart has flourished on special teams, helping to fill the void of such players as Bobby Shea and Ryan Culkin, who helped the Komets to the Western Conference finals last season.

“Certain defensemen flourish in our system,” Graham said. “We put Chase up top in our power play and we feel like he's got a Bobby Shea-like shot. It's hard to find right-shooting D and getting him up top there and getting him good looks is good for him.”

Stewart, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound native of Marathon, Ontario, appreciates the confidence that has been shown in him.

“If you make the right plays at the right times, and the coaches like what you're doing, then you'll get opportunities here,” he said.

Notes: Forward Phelix Martineau was returned to the Komets by Laval of the AHL. He was scoreless in three games there. ... The news on Komets defenseman Cody Sol is better than initially expected. According to general manager David Franke, Sol has a strained MCL in his knee and is “responding well to treatment.” A Dec. 14 return has been targeted.

jcohn@jg.net