For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at blakesebring and at his blog tailingthekomets.com.
Join Blake Sebring for a live chat about the Komets at 1:30 p.m. Friday at News-Sentinel.com.
After he turned 35 in 1988, Al Sims decided it was time to start his transition to coaching by becoming a player/assistant for Robbie Laird. The defenseman helped the Komets win 46 games and earn 98 points that season.
Now that he's 35, veteran center Colin Chaulk is starting the same transition. The Komets announced Tuesday that Chaulk will serve as Sims' player/assistant next season. It's not unexpected, but it means there will be some unexpected things Chaulk will have to deal with besides winning faceoffs, talking to the referee and leading the locker room.
``You're walking a fine line between being one of the guys and one of the players and helping management,'' said Sims who says he still uses things he learned from Laird. ``I think he has to stay believable to the players, and the players have to trust him that he's not running around behind people's backs telling the coach the player is doing this or that.''
No one expects Chaulk to struggle with that, especially Sims. After all, Chaulk has been the captain or one of the key leaders on five Fort Wayne championship teams. He devours new challenges and he's usually the one charging against adversity. Changing his title isn't going to change who he is or how he does things.
He's still going to be the Komets' captain, building new layers on his own legacy and the Komets' tradition. When new players come to Fort Wayne, they are the ones who have to adjust to Chaulk and the way he runs the locker room, which usually doesn't take too long.
This will be slightly different, but really it's just a new challenge, a new layer.
``It will be an interesting role for Chaulker,'' said Brett Smith, 30, who joined the Komets last year after captaining his own championship team the season before in Bossier-Shreveport. ``There's a fine line, and it won't be the easiest position for him, but if anybody can do it, Chaulker can.''
That is another reason why it was so important for the Komets to re-sign alternate captains Kaleigh Schrock and Smith. If a new player would rather talk to someone other than Chaulk, Smith and Schrock are available. Both are experienced enough they can handle situations if necessary, and Chaulk and Sims trust them. They've earned it. There also aren't too many teams that can say their alternate captains have each won two championships.
``We all respect and care about each other,'' Chaulk said. ``They're going to have my back, and I'll always have theirs. We may not agree about everything, but we'll talk it out, and we all know it's about winning.''
If a new player decides he wants to do something differently and tries to force his way onto the locker room, he'll have an impossible time imposing his personality past Schrock and Smith to get to Chaulk. By the time that becomes a problem, the player will either adjust or he'll be gone.
``We always stay on the same page, but sometimes we look at it from a different approach, which is great,'' Schrock said. ``I've never been part of a team that had two other guys like this who are such good leaders. I don't have to be as vocal in the room, but I can continue to lead by example mostly. If I think something needs to be said, I can say it, but usually they've already said it better. The great thing for me is I can figure out how they do things so I can use it in a few years when they aren't around.''
Schrock is only 27, but he has the maturity in the locker room of a much more experienced player.
The other great thing for the Komets is that all three players work well with Sims. They aren't afraid to slam his door, call him a jerk and let the steam off. Then things settle down, they talk and the problems get solved. Sims encourages that open approach and always has. He's never been thin-skinned, and by the end of the conversation, they'll all be laughing.
One reason why Colin Chin was such a great captain for the Komets during the 1990s is because Sims would come into the locker room to peel paint off the walls and skin off backsides, but as soon as he left, Chin would make a joke. Everyone would bust out laughing. The tension was alleviated right away, but Sims' message still stuck because Chin would make sure it did.
Chaulk does things much the same today in a different way. He makes sure everyone understands. Sometimes great captains have to be buffers between the boss and the boys.
Leadership like that only works as long as the coach gives his veterans the same respect as he expects from them, and Sims is great at that.
``To be successful you need the players who are sometimes going to disagree with the coach, but they will still stick together,'' Smith said. ``It builds a lot of stuff that players respect and coaches respect. We're all men, and when things are bad you work through it together.''
The best example of that came last spring when the Komets trailed Missouri 2-0 after losing the first two games at home. Sims charged ahead by saying the Komets didn't need to change anything, and Chaulk started talking about how the Komets were oh, so close to taking over the series. Both still believed in the game plan and made sure the players believed it in time to start their comeback in Game 3.
Instead of facing an overwhelming deficit, Sims and Chaulk convinced the team they had a wonderful opportunity.
That's what Chaulk also has right now, especially since he has help.