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Kalamazoo at Komets
Face-off: 7 p.m.
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM
Because his Brampton, Ontario, team from the Central Hockey League was on a road trip, former Komet Brett Smith came to Fort Wayne last weekend. It's possible it may be the center's last trip to Fort Wayne as an active player.
Smith, 32, is battling neck injuries again and may be forced to retire. He's trying to return to action Jan. 17, and if that doesn't work he'll likely hang up his skates. He suffered a whiplash injury Nov. 17.
"I have to go and try it and see the results,'' Smith said. "If it doesn't work then, it's probably telling me something, which is fine. I've had a great career and played in some great cities, but there always comes a time. I'm sure when I step away from the game I'll miss it, but there comes a time when you have to move on. I think this is it anyways, this year, but I've been saying that for how many years?''
Smith was originally injured during the 2012 playoffs while playing for the Komets when he was hit from behind by Rapid City's Jeff Kyrzakos. He came back to play last season with the Komets before signing this year as a player-assistant coach in his hometown.
If he has to retire, Smith said he'd like to use his degree from Ferris State as a criminal justice major. His new wife, Kara, and their four children would probably prefer a profession with fewer injury risks.
"I just need to find out if I can play and take hits and battle, and then I'll make decisions,'' he said. "She's listened to enough complaints. If the pain is still there and I can't deal with (it) it's probably not a good idea to mess with my neck.''
The Kalamazoo team that comes into town tonight could be very different from one that would have played Sunday. Forward Aaron Clarke, usually a Komets killer, was traded to San Francisco and then Toledo, and forward Yanni Gourde was loaned to Worcester of the American Hockey League on Monday. The Wings were already without star goaltender Jordan Binnington, who was called up to Chicago of the AHL, and defenseman Sam Ftorek, who is sitting out a suspension. The Wings got a big break when Nick Sirota decided to return from Europe.
The Wings have been hammered by call-ups and currently have eight players in the AHL.
A recent check of ECHL rosters shows that teams have used an average of 32.2 players so far this season. Elmira with 42 and Bakersfield with 39 have used the most, and Colorado and Las Vegas with 25 have used the fewest.
The Komets have used 32.
The Komets' 7,321 average attendance is second to Ontario's 7,762 in the ECHL and fourth overall in minor league hockey. Hershey of the American Hockey League is averaging 9,209, and Grand Rapids of the AHL is at 7,792. Providence of the AHL draws 7,319 fans per game followed by Lake Erie of the AHL at 7,313. Toledo is third in the ECHL with 6,057.
Don't forget that tonight's faceoff is at the new Wednesday start time of 7 p.m. ... After beating Toledo 5-3, the Komets are now 38-14-3 all-time on New Year's Eve, and 12 of the last 13 games have drawn more than 9,000 fans. ... After tonight's game, the last really big road stretch of the season is coming up for the Komets as they play six of their next eight games away from Memorial Coliseum. They end the regular season by playing 10 of their last 15 at home. ... Toledo doesn't make another Memorial Coliseum visit until the last week of the regular season... Tonight is Kalamazoo's first trip to Fort Wayne this season, and the Wings make only four more trips here the rest of the season. The Komets play eight times in Kalamazoo. ... The Komets are 8-4-3 against fellow North Division opponents, but they are 3-6-1 against other Eastern Conference foes. ... Because of the Colts' game on WOWO and the IPFW men's basketball game on WKJG, Saturday's Komets game at Kalamazoo will be broadcast on WFGA, 106.7-FM.