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Toledo at Komets
Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM
Maybe no one on the Komets is facing higher expectations than forward Mike Vaskivuo.
The last time Vaskivuo was in Fort Wayne, he led the Komets in scoring as they won the Central Hockey League title in 2012, scoring 10 goals and 24 points in 18 games to win Most Valuable Player honors. Then he went to play in France for a year before taking most of this summer before deciding to return to Fort Wayne.
He has a lot to live up to. Either he will be spectacular or whatever he does will fall short of comparisons.
"I've always set the bar high for myself and the team,'' Vaskivuo said. "The expectations come with a lot of pressure, but I'm used to that. I just go from there.''
Mostly, he expects a lot from himself, especially after what he accomplished in Fort Wayne. That was his first real chance to show all that he could do, and now he is known as a star instead of just a role player.
Part of that is because the faith Komets coach Gary Graham had in Vaskivuo. Graham, then an assistant coach, convinced the Komets to take a chance on Vaskivuo after he'd been released by Rapid City, and then helped Vaskivuo refine his game to be more effective.
"Gary is probably the big reason why I'm here,'' Vaskivuo said. "It all started when he found me in Rapid City. He gave me the opportunity that I was looking for and I'll never forget that. That bond is there, and the respect level is pretty high.''
Though Vaskivuo is a natural left wing, Graham said he may play him at center some this season. Vaskivuo missed most of training camp with a sore groin and hip but said he expects to play on opening night. It will truly be a homecoming for him after going to France.
"It was definitely different, a culture shock at first,'' he said. "Nobody really speaks English so I was kind of by myself trying to get around. As I got acclimated ... it wasn't too bad, but the language barrier was a big thing for me.''
Over there, nobody knew who he was. Over here, everybody does.
"I had some offers to go back to Europe and some other offers here, but I made the best decision for myself,'' Vaskivuo said. "It's always nice to go to a place where you are familiar with the coach and you don't have to prove yourself. The expectations are the same and you know what is wanted.''