FORT WAYNE — Komets general manager David Franke said, “I knew that question was coming.”
And he understood why it was asked Thursday, after the Komets finally confirmed the signing of goaltender Charlie Effinger, the latest in a string of CHL stars to join Fort Wayne for its first ECHL season.
“The guys we have brought back so far on the team can play in any AA-level league,” Franke said. “They are winners. They’re very competitive. It’s our belief that they will thrive in the ECHL. … These players – like Effinger, Eric Giosa, Brandon Marino – were all among the top players in the Central Hockey League. They will complement what we have and we’ll continue to build off that.”
The Komets are coming off a CHL championship, and they’ve won four Cups in five years, but the memories of 2010-11 are still fresh in the minds of fans. After winning three straight titles in the IHL, the Komets were too old, too slow and too complacent in their first CHL season, stagnating in last place until February before making it to the second round of the playoffs.
Some fans have argued the Komets are making a similar mistake. Of the nine players signed, none played in the ECHL last season or have significant recent experience in the NHL-affiliated league.
Franke believes the Komets have been anything but complacent in getting Marino, the CHL MVP, a playmaker in Giosa, a former captain in Tyler Butler and Effinger, maybe the CHL’s best goalie, to complement Colin Chaulk, Brett Smith, Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock, Daniel Maggio and rookie Kyle Atkins.
“I felt the problem (in 2010-11) was we were asking guys to win four championships in a row, and I felt we brought guys back more out of loyalty than them being able to still get it done,” Franke said. “There was apathy on select players and a ‘How do we win four in a row?’ attitude. This is different.”
Though sources said the Komets have come to agreements with Chris Auger, Jean-Michel Rizk, Stephon Thorne and Brent Henley, Franke said nothing has been finalized. The Komets are speaking with defenseman Frankie DeAngelis about a return and are interested in getting Bridgeport of the American Hockey League to assign goalie Kenny Reiter to Fort Wayne.
But Effinger, 26, will be a good No. 1. He was in net for Missouri in the Turner Conference finals, when Fort Wayne recovered from 2-0 and 3-1 series deficits last season. He was 32-15-4 with a 2.70 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage.
Effinger embraces the challenge of being the latest in Fort Wayne’s lineage of great goalies, like Robbie Irons, Chuck Adamson, Pokey Reddick, Kevin St. Pierre and the injured Nick Boucher.
“You don’t want to go to a place with a history of bad goalies,” he said. “I’m a very simple hard-working guy. … It’s about reaching and striving for greatness and I will have that mindset.”