Snarky folks like to say the initials ECHL stand for the Ever-Changing Hockey League because the rosters are so tenuous. A couple times per season a team comes to town one week with 20 players and then returns a week or two later with half of those players replaced.
The Komets are going through one of those times right now. Usually, like last season, it's because so many players have been called up to the American Hockey League, but this season it's because of so many injuries. Fort Wayne hasn't been able to field its full, looks-great-on-paper lineup once this season. First, Trevor Cheek was playing with Tucson in the AHL for the first few weeks, and then Brady Vail was called up to Rochester of the AHL for 18 games. Just as Vail came back, Cheek was called up to Tucson again.
Now Bobby Shea has been called up to Rochester, and the Komets are already without six key players including Cheek: Gabriel Beaupre, Taylor Crunk, Cody Sol, Garrett Thompson and Pat Nagle. Half the remaining defensemen would also be sitting out with injuries if there was someone else to play. Will Weber returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing the last game before Christmas.
Cheek is back with Tucson, but the other five players are all injured and could miss two weeks to a month. Frank Schumacher was called up Wednesday for the second time from Evansville of the Southern Professional Hockey League.
It's also possible that the Komets recently have been playing without their three top defensemen in Beaupre, Sol and Weber. Consider how difficult it is to replace all those minutes each game, and then realize the situation is worse than that because the Komets were often playing with only five defensemen instead of the regular six.
Maybe the biggest loss is Nagle who has a 1.31 goals against average and a .955 save percentage, but he has not played since the season's first four games because of an ankle injury. Though they'd all prefer to play a little more consistently, it's amazing the Komets have a 17-8-3 record.
Coach Gary Graham doesn't complain about or even mention the roster moves. It does no good as the Komets have won games because their opponents have been short-handed, and they've lost games for the same reason. It's simply the way it is in Class AA hockey. This year the Komets have had eight players brought in, while last year the team had brought in 11 players by New Year's Eve on their way to dressing 46 players. They have used 29 after 28 games this season.
Graham is fantastic at scouting the waiver wire and talking to agents to find what players are available.
"Of all the coaches we've had, Gary is probably the hardest-working coach I've ever worked with on the ice and off the ice," Komets General Manager David Franke said earlier this season. "He's always trying to get better as a coach and help the team get better... I'll say it again, he's the hardest-working coach when it comes to finding players, checking them out and getting his gameplans together. That's not to slight anybody else, but Gary really puts the time in."
But at certain times during the season, there's only so much even Graham can do, and the Komets just have to endure and get through until more players are healthy.
Just be thankful it's still December and not March or April so there's time on the schedule for players to heal. They will eventually, but it's likely no pro sports team will ever be fully healthy any more.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Blake Sebring at firstname.lastname@example.org.