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Whenever a prospective player asks coach Gary Graham about the Komets' American Hockey League affiliation, he tells them Fort Wayne doesn't work with one team, it works with 30.
So far, lacking a primary affiliate hasn't hurt the Komets in attracting talent. Graham has been able to sell Fort Wayne's location among a bunch of AHL teams, and he's also quick to point out that defenseman Daniel Maggio moved up last year as a free agent from the Komets.
The Komets have signed 23 players so far, many more than any other ECHL team, and on paper they seem to have increased their overall talent level. Are they proving they don't need an affiliate?
"We're still working on one,'' Komets General Manager David Franke said. "We're basically just looking at working agreements. We don't need a full-fledged agreement unless they want one.''
The Komets would still like to provide their players with a path to the AHL, something Graham has stressed is very important. Graham thinks it will help his continued recruiting if he can prove he helped players move up.
Many of the signees are coming in with significant AHL experience already. Bobby Hughes, Nick Tuzzolino, Rob Kwiet, Drew Olson, John Muse and Simon Danis-Pepin all have AHL reputations and are hoping for another step up.
Not having an affiliation could also work for the Komets. Not having a primary affiliate means they could reach out to any AHL team that is looking to place a player in the ECHL. For years in the old International Hockey League, the Komets added key pieces to good teams by using this technique with players such as Scott Gruhl, Pat Elynuik and Bob Essensa.
"Even if we don't have an affiliation, we know people in the AHL and they know us very well,'' Franke said. "Affiliations are good if they help each team out, but at the end of the day if you have a player on your team who is performing everybody in the AHL is going to find out about it.''
But what happens if the Komets lose two or three players to an AHL call-up? Will they have the resources to replace players if they lack a primary affiliate?
Graham points to how successful Las Vegas and Alaska performed as independents during recent seasons in the ECHL's Western Conference, including making trips to the Kelly Cup finals. He also says his job is to have the players who are here prepared to play no matter what.
Franke hasn't given up on an affiliation, but it's not an imperative matter, either.
"It's something we're continuing to discuss every day,'' Franke said. "I was on the phone with an NHL team today. We'll know within a couple of weeks if we're going to be hooked up with anybody or not.
"If we're not we're an independent. It would be great to have them, but I think we've built our team strong enough that if it's not in the cards it's not going being to be a death knell to us.''
Franke also points out that by the time AHL training camps end, dozens of players will be looking for new homes. Though the AHL has unlimited rosters, players would rather play than sit.
Graham also watches so many games online the Komets believe he'll have a strong ability to judge players who have been released from other AHL or ECHL teams.