FORT WAYNE, IN. — The winds of change have hit the Fort Wayne Komets like a hurricane this offseason.
The Komets announced Monday they were severing ties with the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes and AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners after just one season of affiliation.
The announcement was made Monday, tucked into a news release announcing two new Komet signings. Yes, the Komets have actually added a new face in an offseason made more memorable by the ones they’re losing.
More on the signings later.
First up, Justin Cohn of the Journal-Gazette got a hold of Komets coach Gary Graham after the Arizona announcement was made by Komets President Michael Franke and General Manager David Franke.
“The Frankes will always do what they feel is best for the Fort Wayne Komets, and that’s what’s special about working for them,” Graham told Cohn. “They are all about winning a championship. They want to have the ability to do some things and have flexibility within the organization, and sometimes if both teams aren’t 100 percent in line with how things look…”
In their inaugural campaign, the Komets linked with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks and AHL’s Norfolk Admirals. That lasted all of a year. Then, in 2013-14, the Komets moved on and linked with the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche and AHL’s San Antonio Rampage. That lasted two seasons before the Komets went independent. That status continued until their affiliation with the Coyotes and Roadrunners began at the start of 2017-18.
The loss of the Coyotes affiliation means players like former OHL Red Tilson Award winner and goaltender Michael Houser and speedy forward Artur Tyanulin will likely not return to the Komets.
In 45 games in net, Houser had a 2.73 goals against average and a .909 save percentage, posting a 28-11-0 record in the regular season. In the playoffs, Houser’s numbers improved, as he posted a 2.44 GAA in 17 games and a .914 save percentage.
Tyanulin showed speed and grit in Fort Wayne, along with a knack for coming through in the clutch, like in the overtime winner below. In 39 games, Tyanulin registered 18 goals and 24 assists for the Komets, good for 42 points. He also was a +14 last season.
Here is that beautific Artur Tyanulin overtime winner for @fwkomets, who beats Greenville 3-2 and have now won 16 of 18 to remain atop Central Division. @roadrunnersahl @ESPNAssignDesk #sctop10 @ArizonaCoyotes pic.twitter.com/05NKWFrZud
— Justin A. Cohn (@SportsiCohn) February 25, 2018
Up until the Coyotes announcement, Komets fans knew they were losing the likes of Garrett Thompson (Frisk Asker in Norway), Gabriel Desjardins (Vasterviks IK in Sweden), and Mason Baptista (EHC Freiburg in Germany). All three recently explained their decisions to leave the Komets to the News-Sentinel.
Then came the heartbreaker for die-hard Komets fans.
Wednesday, the News-Sentinel announced ECHL MVP and arguably the face of the franchise Shawn Szydlowski is joining Thompson in Norway’s Frisk Asker after five years in Fort Wayne.
“If there’s a possibility to be paid the same way in North America, I don’t think many guys would look to Europe,” Szydlowski told the News-Sentinel’s Blake Sebring. “It’s really about the money and the age and the profession where we do have an age limit and it’s a tough job.”
Players in the ECHL are limited in what they can make because of the league’s salary cap. The average player’s salary in the ECHL is roughly $640 a week because teams are limited to a salary cap of $12,800 per week. Star players can make more, while rookies often make less than the average.
In Europe, teams don’t have these kinds of limits, which means North American players looking for exposure often find themselves in places like Scandinavia and Germany before things like marriage, children, or other life events lure them back stateside.
Another factor in Szydlowski’s decision to leave Fort Wayne is wear and tear. Frisk Asker played 45 regular-season games last season. The Komets? 72 regular-season games, plus 18 more Kelly Cup Playoff games. Szydlowski has missed time in the past two seasons because of back issues.
In five seasons in Fort Wayne, the 27-year-old Szydlowski played 296 games, scoring 130 goals, adding 190 assists, and registering 348 penalty minutes, gaining a reputation as a player who was willing to put in a hard-working shift every time he was on the ice and a player that wasn’t afraid to stick up for his team. All of this not only earned him a reputation as a fan-favorite in Fort Wayne but also put him in the top 25 in the franchise’s all-time in games played, goals, assists and total points.
As for the signings announced this week, the Komets are re-signing forward Anthony Petruzzelli, 25, and adding fourth-year defenseman Kevin Gibson, 28.
Petruzzelli joined the Komets after finishing four years at the University of Vermont. He played four regular season games and scored three goals before playing 14 of the Komets 17 playoff games.
Gibson comes to the Komets after starting the 2017-18 campaign with the Milton Keynes Lightning of the EIHL in England, registering one goal and four assists (five points) in 11 games there. He then moved to the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL, playing 54 games last season, scoring three times and adding ten assists (13 points) and ending fourth on the Walleye with a +18.
What hasn’t been announced yet is who the Komets will affiliate with next season and beyond…that is, if they don’t go the independent route again.
Hearing the possible affiliation options for Komets are … Vegas and Nashville.
— Justin A. Cohn (@SportsiCohn) June 21, 2018
The Quad City Mallards were the previous affiliate of the Golden Knights and folded at the end of the season before the Storm rose from their proverbial ashes and joined the SPHL. The Predators cut ties with Norfolk not even eight months after beginning their affiliation with the Admirals.