The best thing about the Komets’ new affiliation : with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights : isn’t that they’re both coming off such successful seasons. It’s that there’s geographic proximity between Fort Wayne and the Knights’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Chicago Wolves.
“Proximity played a big part in it for our end and for their end,” Fort Wayne general manager David Franke said today, after the Komets and Golden Knights announced their new one-year partnership.
There are connections between the front offices of the Komets and Wolves that go back years : to the now defunct International Hockey League in the 1990s : and now Fort Wayne players making the move to and from the AHL won’t have to go to places like Tucson, Arizona, or San Antonio, Texas, as they did in the last two affiliations with the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche.
Franke recognized fans of the Komets were getting antsy over this news lasting until Aug. 21, but he said it was a product of the Golden Knights’ run as an expansion team to the Stanley Cup Finals.
“We’re excited about this,” Franke said. “Our fans probably thought it was dragging down the road and ‘It’s not going to happen,’ but these thing take time and when you play late into the season like Vegas did and you’ve got the draft and salary arbitration and rookie camp, that’s lot of things going on but we were patient and persistent and we’re very excited about this,” said Franke, whose affiliation with the Coyotes lasted only one season, but one that saw the Komets get to within one goal of the Kelly Cup finals.
The Komets had also been in talks with the NHL’s Nashville Predators, who will become a secondary affiliate of the ECHL’s Atlanta Gladiators, sources have told The Journal Gazette.
The Komets, who joined the ECHL in 2012, are entering their fourth NHL affiliation : they also had been aligned with the Anaheim Ducks : and that includes two seasons of being an independent team. Franke would certainly like to avoid going through this again next season, so he hopes this partnership becomes a successful one, one that will help in recruiting free agent players in years to come.
“We’re kind of on an audition now for this season,” he said. “Hopefully this will translate to something good for all of us as we move down the line.”
The Golden Knights’ head coach, Gerard Gallant, got his coaching start as an assistant with the Komets in the IHL in 1998-99.
“It’s a great day in Komet land today. This is an affiliation we’ve been working on all summer long,” Franke said. “You look at Las Vegas and their season, their first season in the NHL it kind of mirrored our first season of owning the team in the IHL. They went to the Stanley Cup finals and we went to the Turner Cup finals. There’s familiarity and you throw Chicago in the mix, which is three hours down the road, it’s something we wanted to do.”
The Komets expect to get a goalie and two or three other players right away through the affiliation. That likely means negotiations with goalie Michael Houser about a return to Fort Wayne will cease.
“It probably does,” Franke said. “I think he’s a No. 1 goalie in the ECHL. I don’t think he would go to being a backup after being a No. 1 goalie for us. It’s unfortunate, after he was so good for us and was a great teammate to other players. But when you do these affiliations, you know you’re going to get a goalie. Michael, in his interests, he needs to be playing.”
Franke said it’s too early to speculate on which Golden Knights players will land in Fort Wayne, since they need to go through NHL and AHL training camps. However, a look at the depth chart reveals the most likely goalie candidate: Zachary Fucale, who last season split time between Laval of the AHL and Brampton of the ECHL. In the AHL, he was 10-7-0 with a 3.26 goals-against average and a .890 save percentage. In the ECHL, he was 5-4-0 with a 2.83 GAA and a .913 SP.
“We are proud to add the ECHL’s Fort Wayne Komets as an affiliate,” Golden Knights general manager George McPhee said in a press release. “ECHL clubs play an important role in player development. Our young players and prospects will have the opportunity to grow and improve in both Fort Wayne at the ECHL level and then in Chicago at the American Hockey League level.”
The Wolves are celebrating their 25th anniversary season. They have won four league championships since their 1994 inception and have captured the last two AHL Central Division titles.
Note: Franke confirmed the Komets are no longer negotiating with Dennis Kravchenko about a return. There are about three roster spots that remain open for training camp.