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Fort Wayne Komets assistant coach Gary Graham has been named head coach of the Southern Professional Hockey League's Pensacola Ice Flyers.
Graham, 33 and a Fort Wayne native, has been Al Sims' assistant for the past four seasons.
``It's exciting,'' Graham said. ``It's been an amazing four years here in Fort Wayne. Thanks to Al and a great group of leaders, I've learned a lot the past four years. It's been a great breeding ground for me to learn as a young coach.''
The SPHL is a seven-team Class A minor league. Pensacola finished second in the SPHL playoffs to Columbus, and coach Todd Gordon was released from his contract shortly afterward. The Ice Flyers will play their fourth season this year.
A 1997 North Side graduate, Graham didn't start playing hockey until age 12. He played a year and a half of junior hockey before his playing career ended.
After coming home and going to Ball State, Graham started coaching the Snider club team and led the Panthers to the Class AA state title game. The next year they won the city championship.
Then Graham worked as an assistant coach with a junior team in Indianapolis that finished one win away from advancing to the national tournament. Following that, Graham returned to North Side where he coached the Redskins' club team, taking a squad that finished last the previous season to the city title.
With the help of Komets defenseman Guy Dupuis, Graham met with Sims and talked his way into a volunteer assistant coach job that became full-time as he helped the Komets win three championships.
``Al gave me a lot of responsibility and helped me a lot,'' Graham said.
This past year players gave Graham a lot of credit for his video breakdowns of opponents. During games, he ran the defensive shifts.
Graham also had an offer to become an assistant coach with Bloomington of the Central Hockey League, working with Fort Wayne native Brian Gratz, but he wanted a head coaching position.
"Gary brings extensive hockey knowledge, championship experience and excellent recruiting avenues to our organization," Pensacola owner Tim Kerr said. "We wanted to make sure we have the right person on and off the ice to lead our team, and every person I talked to about Gary had nothing but positives to share with me."
The Komets are expected to hire a replacement for Graham to help Sims behind the bench.
``It's well-deserved,'' Sims said of Graham. ``It was great having a guy who has been under you for four years have a chance like this. It helps you when your assistants go on to be head coaches. You need somebody to give you an opportunity, and Gary is prepared and ready to step up and do his own thing. He's done all he can for us. We're really pumped for him.''