The Journal Gazette
Thursday, November 28, 2019 1:00 am

Komets seek success in youth

Move from veteran-heavy lineup

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

When the Franke family bought the Komets back in 1990, they brought in a nucleus of older players such as 35-year-old Bruce Boudreau, 33-year-old John Anderson and 31-year-old Scott Gruhl, who knew how to be successful on and off the ice.

Success ensued – the Komets reached the playoff finals – and a formula stuck for most of the next 28 years: Have an older, core group that establishes the way of doing things; surround them with energetic youthful players who are willing to learn; and don't rely solely on what higher-level teams give you.

Along the way, the Frankes won six championships.

But the Komets are still in search of their first title since joining the ECHL in 2012. After a change in coaches and almost all of the roster, new coach Ben Boudreau and general manager David Franke have ushered in a different way of thinking this season.

After years of carrying the maximum number of veteran players leagues would allow them, the Komets have only two this season – Shawn Szydlowski and A.J. Jenks – and it's been a clear divergence from what we're used to seeing at Memorial Coliseum.

“That's kind of the philosophy we wanted to take going into this year. We knew over the summer that we were going to change it up a lot. Maybe not having (the maximum) four vets is not a bad thing,” Franke said.

A veteran player in the ECHL is defined, essentially, as a non-goalie who enters the season with 260 regular-season games played in professional hockey.

Through the years, and different leagues, the definitions and roster limits have changed, but the Komets have had as many as seven veterans. For instance, the International Hockey League championship team of 2008-09 had Colin Chaulk, P.C. Drouin, Guy Dupuis, Kevin Bertram, Adam Lewis, Konstantin Shafranov and Leo Thomas as vets with 300 games of experience.

Last season, the Komets' veterans included Szydlowski, Jamie Schaafsma, Justin Hodgman and Cody Sol.

While Franke hasn't ruled out adding a veteran or two as this season progresses, he's found that having only two has had a huge benefit beyond youthfulness: It's saved money.

“It's allowed us to carry more players on the roster, which has really helped when we've had injuries or call-ups,” Franke said.

It also cuts costs to have so many players assigned by the Los Angeles Kings and Vegas Golden Knights – there are four now but have been as many as nine – because only a portion of their salaries count against the ECHL cap.

One could argue that fewer vets also means more roster flexibility. When a vet signs with Fort Wayne, he may expect a certain amount of playing time or to be on special teams, for instance, but a rookie-laden roster can't make those demands as much.

Building a core

Having a younger roster can have some downsides, though, and we've seen it with the inconsistent play, defensive lapses and the movement to and from the higher-level American Hockey League.

Heading into the Komets' game Wednesday night against the Wheeling Nailers, the Komets were 9-6-2. They had the top-ranked offense in the ECHL (4.29 goals per game), the 23rd-ranked defense (4 goals against per game) and were 0-5-0 against division powers Toledo and Cincinnati.

“It takes time. It's not a quick fix,” said Ben Boudreau, whose K's play the Nailers at 7:30 tonight at the Coliseum.

One thing the Komets made sure of was to recruit rookies who were proven leaders, so inexperience would be tempered by maturity.

“The whole plan is we want to build our team, we want to gain confidence. And next year, we won't be saying that we're young and we're rookies,” Boudreau said. “After an entire year with, hopefully, the same coach and the same team, it's about growing together. We knew early on there would be some growing pains and we've obviously seen that ... but for us it's the end goal.”

The Komets have rebooted the roster and gotten away from having so many veterans this season, but they want to find a core group that will be back for years to come. Players such as Brady Shaw, Brett McKenzie, Shawn St-Amant, Matthew Boudens and Alan Lyszczarczyk have all been mentioned as players the Komets might covet for years.

“I like the team that we have,” Franke said. “I think they're going to get better and better as the season goes along. But we're hoping that, out of this group, we have players who will play here for a while and that our fans will get to know them and get used to them playing for the Komets.

“Not everybody is going to play in the American League or the National Hockey League. This is a great place to play and, as we've seen over the years, when you have a few players returning for a few years in a row, it usually leads to very good things.”

Other teams' vets

Are the Komets' an anomaly with only two vets? Not even close. The Rapid City Rush and Wheeling Nailers have no vets. The Idaho Steelheads have only one, Joe Basaraba.

According to data acquired from the ECHL, there are eight teams with two vets, nine teams with three vets and six with the maximum of four.

As for the Komets' division: Cincinnati, Toledo and Kalamazoo have four vets apiece, Indy has two and Wheeling has none.

Note: Goaltender Dylan Ferguson was called to Chicago of the AHL on Wednesday. This was trickle down from the Golden Knights' Marc-Andre Fleury taking leave for an undisclosed family illness.

Komets vs. Wheeling

When: 7:30 p.m. today

Where: Memorial Coliseum

Radio: 1190 AM, 107.5 FM

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