The Komets went into their annual New Year’s Eve game hoping their leadership would help propel them out of their slump.
In front of a packed Memorial Coliseum, they made a statement tonight about that leadership by introducing A.J. Jenks as captain.
Jenks, who just last season was with the rival Toledo Walleye, the very team Fort Wayne is facing, was introduced among the starters with the ‘C’ newly sewn onto his jersey.
The Komets came in mired in a 0-4-3 slide. It's their longest winless streak since joining the ECHL in 2012.
Before learning he’d been selected captain, Jenks said the onus was on the leaders to get things headed in the right direction.
“It’s definitely there for us (to win),” Jenks said. “We’ve definitely got to be somebody to lean on, especially for these younger guys who are less experienced. It’s something we’ve all been through at one point or another and we’re going to have to dig our way out of it.”
After parting ways in the offseason with Jamie Schaafsma, who had been the Komets’ captain for four seasons, new coach Ben Boudreau had only utilized alternate captains this season – Jenks, Shawn Szydlowski, Jason Binkley and Brady Shaw.
Heading into today, Boudreau acknowledged the leaders had to help guide the team that has been ravaged by injuries and call-ups.
“There’s nobody else that’s going to do it for them,” Boudreau said. “I can’t strap on the skates. Even if I did, I don’t know I’d help our team at this point.
"Anybody that’s playing, these are great opportunities for guys. … Everybody needs to find a way to elevate their play. The same guys keep showing up on a nightly basis – Jenks has been phenomenal for us – and guys like (Matthew) Boudens, (Anthony) Petruzzelli and (Brett) McKenzie have been trying their tails off for us. It’s just not working for us, though, and it always seems to be a one-goal difference at the end of it.”
Jenks, 29, was a captain in junior hockey with the Ontario Hockey League’s Plymouth Whalers and he’d been an alternate through the years, including with the Walleye for which he played from 2014 to 2019.
He wasn’t re-signed by the Walleye last summer and his arrival in Fort Wayne generated a lot of buzz because of his history playing against Fort Wayne and of injuries.
He's been highly productive with 11 goals and 20 points in 23 games, missed eight games because of injuries, namely one to a quad, and earned rave reviews from Boudreau for helping the players get prepared for games and leading by example by playing through pain.
The Komets (15-11-5) are two points back of Toledo (17-9-3) for second place in the Central Division.
Jenks said his message to his teammates this week was: “Basically, ‘Don’t beat yourselves. Simplify the game. Make sure you’re making easy, hard plays and communicate a lot. Try to play a real simple, hard hockey game.’”
Szydlowski is the longest tenured Komets player – he’s been with them since 2013 – but he’s said it would be non-issue if he’s not named captain.
The Komets come in missing Jermaine Loewen, Brady Shaw, Max Gottlieb and Markus Phillips, all of whom were in the higher-level American Hockey League, and injured players Shawn St-Amant, Brad Morrison and Will Petschenig.
“It’s definitely tough but we’re not the only team going through it. Every team does,” Jenks said. “It’s part of the nature of this league. No excuses, we have more than enough talent in that room to be winning games for sure.”