K’s welcome 33 players to camp
When the Komets stepped onto the ice for training camp Monday afternoon, it was a much different looking group from a year ago.
There was no Shawn Szydlowski, last season’s ECHL MVP and leading scorer. There was no Gabriel Desjardins, last season’s team MVP. Also gone were Garrett Thompson, Mason Baptista, Michael Houser, Bobby Shea and Ryan Culkin.
But the expectations? Those are always there.
These are, after all, the Komets, a team that is preparing for its 67th season at Memorial Coliseum and is in search of its 10th championship : and its first since joining the ECHL in 2012.
“There’s a bit of a rebuild here and that’s exciting,” said Gary Graham, who has taken the Komets to the playoffs in each of his five seasons as coach. “There’s going to be about 75 percent new players here, a lot like my first year here (as head coach), and there are a lot of jobs up for grabs, and that’s exciting.”
With 33 players vying for about 20 roster spots, this camp is much like Graham’s first : every position battle will be rigorous leading up to the opener Oct. 12 at Indianapolis against the Indy Fuel.
“The last four years, there were X number of jobs that were already dialed in for returning guys and we knew what they were,” Graham said. “Now we see this youth movement that we talked about doing after we got knocked out (of the playoffs) and with the vet rule, that’s what you’ve got to do nowadays : find that next wave of kids or free agents and that’s what we’ve done.”
The Komets’ four veteran spots are committed to captain Jamie Schaafsma, alternate captain Cody Sol, forward Justin Hodgman and newcomer Garret Ross, who has spent the entirety of his career in the higher-level American Hockey League.
The only two players missing were Marco Roy, who was with Laval of the AHL but is expected to return today, and newly signed defenseman Chase Stewart. There had been other players in AHL camp, through the Komets’ affiliation with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, but Ross, Sol, Thomas Ebbing, Garrett Ladd, Joseph Widmar, Jeff King, Jason Binkley, Zach Fucale, Kyle Hayton and Lukas Hafner all returned from the Chicago Wolves on Saturday.
“Chicago was a good camp. I had a lot of fun up there and learned a lot. It was really nice to get the year started at the American League level with the pace that the guys had come with,” Binkley said.
“A lot of them had come from Vegas, obviously, so you’re coming to camp with guys who have been skating for upward of two or three weeks, right? ... The nice thing was coming in and getting to that pace and that speed and that level right away. It was like, hey, shock and awe, let’s do this, right away. Let’s get going.”
Only seven players left from the Komets’ playoff team, which lost to the eventual-champion Colorado Eagles in overtime of Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, and those are Schaafsma, Sol, Binkley, Roy, Hodgman, Ryan Lowney and Anthony Petruzzelli, and exactly what kind of Komets team this will be isn’t yet known.
“The team usually forges its own identity through what we end up seeing and we build around that. I can tell you this: I’m really exited about the speed factor; I think we’re going to definitely be faster. I like our blue line, and I think there’s the possibility to have an even more offensive D corps this year that can help amplify the forwards,” Graham said, adding that some players who were checking forwards in the AHL, such as Ross and Ebbing, will probably blossom into ECHL scorers as Thompson did before them.
“It’ll be exciting to watch how that goes down.”