On-the-fly rebuild has K’s winning
The Komets seem headed in the right direction : on an 8-3-1 run that has brought them back to respectability : and coach Gary Graham and general manager David Franke should be given as least as much adulation for their ability to reshape this roster on the fly as criticism for the roster they constructed during the offseason.
The problem with this many moves, an almost unheard of seven trades plus the re-signings of Shawn Szydlowski and Mason Baptista, is one must wonder about the effect on team chemistry. But the players have meshed well, almost all lauding the nucleus within the locker room, namely captain Jamie Schaafsma, for making everyone feel welcome with a good mix of work and fun.
Still, every move made comes with a feeling of nervousness; will this one be the one that makes it too many?
The players the Komets have traded for are game-changers : J.C. Campagna, Jake Kamrass, Jordan Sims, Justin Kea, Ryan Siiro, Brady Shaw and Trey Phillips : but players are usually available for a reason. In the case of Shaw, for example, the Orlando Solar Bears had put him on team suspension for “conduct detrimental” to the team just a couple of days before Fort Wayne acquired him Tuesday.
Yet in the minors, there are myriad reasons a change of scenery is often all that is needed. In 2013-14, the Solar Bears got Mickey Lang from the Komets in similar circumstances and he wound up the league’s MVP. This season, the Komets parted with Garret Ross just to make room for Szydlowski, and Ross has averaged more than a point per game for Atlanta and played 10 games in the higher-level American Hockey League for Milwaukee.
The Komets (13-11-2) seem headed in the right direction, though well behind division rivals Cincinnati and Toledo, who have 14- and 11-point leads, respectively. The only way to catch up is to shake the habit of inconsistency; the Komets tend to turn in one bad period or score a big goal and then give an even bigger one up within minutes.
While the Komets’ lineup has been ravaged by injuries and call-ups, Graham is soon to have more options : Marco Roy is back from Chicago of the AHL; Sims is nearing return from a groin injury : and players unwilling to adapt will not be in the lineup. If Shaw can be a top-six forward, Phillips the next Jason Binkley and Phelix Martineau returns from Laval of the AHL, some players may get traded out.
The offense, ranked 18th in the ECHL (3.04 goals per game), doesn’t seem as much of a problem area as the defense, ranked 17th (3.16 goals against), numbers still skewed by the early season struggles.
Goaltender Zach Fucale will be gone Sunday through Jan. 2 to represent Canada in the Spengler Cup, an international tournament in Davos, Switzerland. Fucale, who is 7-0-1 in his last seven starts, has extensive international experience, and led Canada to the Spengler championship in 2016. With him gone, Lukas Hafner will take over the No. 1 role and someone else will be brought in to back up.
The Komets will benefit from a good penalty-killing unit that ranks eighth (85.3 percent), though it has given up a whopping five short-handed goals. Fort Wayne’s power play still needs work; it ranks 16th (16.5 percent), though recent additions should help heading into today’s 8 p.m. game at Memorial Coliseum against the Kalamazoo Wings (13-12-1).
Notes: The Komets alumni team has added Kevin Bertram, Ryan Potts, Martin Burgers, P.C. Drouin and public-address announcer Larry Schmitt for its 7:30 p.m. Dec. 28 game against the Trine house team of coaches and men’s league players at Thunder Ice Arena in Angola. Tickets are $12 at thundericearena.com.