The Journal Gazette
Thursday, October 22, 2020 1:00 am

Komets re-sign McKenzie amid uncertainty

Team still unsure if ECHL season will be played

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Brett McKenzie was the ninth-leading scorer in the ECHL last season with 60 points in 56 games. He's the latest piece to join the Komets' roster for the coming season, though the team emphasized it's still uncertain whether there will be one at Memorial Coliseum amid the coronavirus pandemic.

McKenzie, 23, became Wednesday the 21st player signed, joining a powerful group of forwards that includes Shawn Szydlowski, Marco Roy, Zach Pochiro, Anthony Petruzzelli, Mason Bergh and Matthew Boudens.

Last season, the speedy McKenzie totaled 23 goals and was behind only Brady Shaw in Fort Wayne goals and points.

“Brett is really a big piece to our puzzle. He solidifies our offense up front,” coach Ben Boudreau said. “Finishing in the top 10 in scoring is just scratching the surface of his potential. As a two-way player, he can do it all. Brett has an infectious personality in the locker room and really complements the current roster.”

A seventh-round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks in 2016, McKenzie is entering his third professional season. He played for the Atlanta Gladiators in 2018-19, accruing 16 goals and 45 points in 62 games. He has six games of experience in the higher-level American Hockey League with Providence and Chicago.

“This signing is vitally important for the Komets,“ Komets general manager David Franke said. “Brett McKenzie was (our) second leading scorer last season and he's a solid, hard-working player with the skills and ability to be an elite player in the ECHL. He definitely has a lot of upside to his game and we'll benefit from that.”

The ECHL's season is slated to begin Dec. 11 with 13 teams. An additional 12, including the Komets, are hoping to start up Jan. 15. Atlanta has opted out.

In announcing the McKenzie signing, the Komets also emphasized that no decision has been made on if they will skate this season, despite the Coliseum and Allen County Department of Health recently approving a maximum capacity of 3,830 fans.

There are several factors for the Komets to consider, namely if it'll be financially sensible to play at that capacity. It would be more so, the team has said, if capacity were 4,500 to 4,800, still far less than Fort Wayne's ECHL-leading average attendance of 8,090 last season.

The Komets don't get a portion of parking or concessions at the Coliseum and don't profit from suite tickets, though they count against the capacity number. There are roughly 3,300 season-ticket holders and many may not want to sit in unfamiliar spots, such as the 600 level, under a social-distancing system. And while there's optimism that capacity could increase later in the season, there's an equal amount of fear within the organization, especially given the recent rise in COVID-19 rates in Indiana, that the season will be shut down after play starts and lead to more financial losses than if the Komets hadn't skated at all. 

The Komets have been surveying season-ticket holders on their interests and concerns for the coming season.

“Decisions regarding return to play for the Komets for the 2020-2021 season will be made over the next six weeks. We are looking at ways to bring Komet hockey back in a safe manner for our fans, players and staff, that have some semblance of financial justification from a business perspective,” Komets president Michael Franke said.

“Right now, we don't know when the NHL or the AHL is planning on starting, if at all, so we are hoping that the coming weeks will bring better information to make a well-informed decision on the 69th season of Komet Hockey.”

The Komets are a Double-A affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights. Having players on NHL or AHL contracts helps strengthen the lineup and also can defray some salary costs.

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