Though, as Kaleigh Schrock often says, there's nothing like being a champion in Fort Wayne, the Komets shouldn't have much of a championship hangover this season. Too much has changed since May 7 when Colin Chaulk lifted the Ray Miron Presidents' Cup after the Komets beat the Wichita Thunder to win the Central Hockey League title.
Though they have won four titles in five years, the main difference is the Komets aren't in the CHL anymore. They now play in the ECHL, which has 23 Class AA minor league teams on both sides of the country. The Komets will play in the Eastern Conference's North Division along with Kalamazoo, Toledo, Evansville and Cincinnati.
They also don't have leading scorer Bobby Chaumont, top defenseman Frankie DeAngelis or ace goaltender Nick Boucher back. Also missing are Jamie Milam, Leo Thomas, Jamie Lovell, Tom Mele, Mike Vaskivuo, David Starenky, Bryant Molle and Gerry Festa.
The only players back are Colin Chaulk, Brett Smith, Chris Auger, Kaleigh Schrock, Stephon Thorne, J.M. Rizk, Brent Henley and Daniel Maggio.
``We learned a little lesson from moving from the new IHL to the CHL (in 2010),'' Komets General Manager David Franke said. ``We probably overloaded with too many returnees in retrospect, but you win three championships and it's real hard not to believe in them. This year we worked things differently, and I think we have some good size up front and on defense.''
There shouldn't be a championship hangover because everybody who is new to the team hasn't won four titles in five years, but they'd all like to drink out of a cup sometime. Every new player who signed here over the summer talked about wanting to be part of the Komets' winning tradition.
``They brought back the best guys from a championship team, and they are bringing in some of the best AA players around,'' veteran defenseman Brent Henley said. ``It's hard not to be excited. We want to see where we're at.''
There's also that. Each of the Komets swears Class AA hockey is the same no matter if it's in the CHL or the ECHL, but they all wonder how they'll stack up against the ECHL's best.
``There's always that possibility,'' forward Chris Auger said. ``That's what we do in the summer, is prepare not to have that. Maybe if we were in the CHL there might be that hangover, but going to a new league brings a lot of new excitement and that might wash that completely out.''
If it doesn't, Komets coach Al Sims said he will.
``I think changing leagues has fired us all up,'' Komets coach Al Sims said, referring to the team management. ``It really has fired up the players, too. The one thing we have to be aware of is everybody is going to be gunning for us just like our first year in the CHL. Everybody is going to be giving us their best shot.''
The returning players all say they love that, and the new players say that's why they came here. Everyone wants that challenge, even though most of them have not played here before.
``They know from playing against us what it's like,'' Sims said.
Which is also why the Komets put together their roster the way they did. Most ECHL teams rely on their American Hockey League affiliates to provide the core players and then fill in around that with free agents. The Komets signed their core players first as free agents and then went out and got an affiliation with the Norfolk Admirals. Most of Fort Wayne's young players have already been battle-tested from last spring's long playoff run.
The Komets can rely on their free agents or they can rely on their affiliated players.
``We really feel right now we can go both ways,'' Franke said. ``With the NHL lockout, that may initially prove to be the case, but I really feel they will get back to playing hockey. I think both sides know how important it is. Then some of those situations will eliminate themselves because players will be needed in the AHL. We can go either way, with the way we put the team together.''