The ECHL is investigating allegations made by Will Petschenig that the Komets used his signature without authorization on a form that placed him on injured reserve.
“All I can say at this point is we will be investigating,” commissioner Ryan Crelin said today. “But I don’t want to comment beyond that because everything is alleged and I need to get the facts.”
The Komets and Petschenig parted ways Monday. It’s unclear whether Petschenig was released or if, as he alleged, he left the team of his own accord.
The 25-year-old defenseman wrote on Twitter that he had been unaware he’d been placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury Feb. 19. While the injury isn’t in dispute -- the IR form was also signed by a doctor and athletic trainer -- Petschenig wrote that a fan was the first to tell him he’d been put on IR.
“The team excused this breach of my trust by explaining that it was a necessary decision to not lose another rostered player -- an action to help achieve their goals at my expense,” Petschenig wrote. “Ultimately, my signature was placed on this document without my consent, something that is both unethical and illegal.”
Petschenig had returned from IR, played last weekend and ultimately skated 26 games with the Komets, totaling two assists and 25 penalty minutes.
The only comment from the Komets has come from team president Michael Franke: “All I'm going to say is this -- we followed the league protocol completely and, outside of that, we have no additional comment.”
While Franke wouldn’t elaborate on those protocols, the issue boils down to whether Petschenig had been forewarned that an electronic signature on file could be used on league forms.
While Fort Wayne players have declined to comment publicly on the situation, one affirmed that players are told signatures on file may be used on paperwork.
League sources noted it’s strange a player’s signature is required on an IR form to begin with because players don’t have a say in roster management; a player could be unavailable, even though IR stays are often backdated; only a doctor and/or trainer would be qualified to discern the extent of an injury or illness; and the player could be unable to make an informed decision in the case of, say, a concussion.
“I’m not certain there’s a standard practice,” Crelin said. “We get the forms. They’re signed and sent in. If a player is not available and there’s a signature and he says, ‘Go ahead and send it in,’ if there’s consent there then I don’t see an issue. But I’m not sure there’s a standard practice.”
If there is punishment from the league, it would likely come in the form of fines.
The Professional Hockey Players’ Association didn’t answer a request for comment. But the Komets’ union representative, forward Shawn Szydlowski, said the PHPA is looking into the situation.
“As of right now, the only thing I can say is I’ve been dealing with the PHPA and Will’s dealing with the PHPA as well,” Szydlowski said. “As of right now, they’re taking control of the situation. As of that, I don’t have really have much else to comment on with the situation at the moment.”
Petschenig had two stints on IR -- from pneumonia and the ankle injury -- and both could have prolonged his time with the Komets, who have dealt with roster-size and salary-cap issues this season.
Off the ice, Petschenig heads “a Heart Like Mine,” a program he founded for kids who have lost a parent. It's named in honor of his father, Dan, a former Canadian Football League player who died when Petschenig was 18.
“A Heart Like Mine,” which has followed Petschenig from Saginaw, Michigan, to Geneva, Switzerland, to Fort Wayne, allows kids to attend games, get souvenirs and go into the locker room after games, and Petschenig stays in touch with those kids.
The Komets (30-23-8), who have 11 games remaining in the regular season, play host to the Wichita Thunder (24-29-8) at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Memorial Coliseum. The Central Division’s top four teams will make the postseason and Fort Wayne is in third place, nine points back of second-place Toledo and six points ahead of fourth-place Indy.
ECHL monitors virus
In an effort to limit exposure to the coronavirus, the Komets have decided to disallow fans from congregating outside the locker room for autographs and such, and postgame skates with players will be halted for the time being.
While sports leagues prepare to potentially cancel games or keep fans from attending because of the virus, the ECHL is preparing for various eventualities.
“We’ve communicated some things internally and will continue to do so from a precautionary standpoint, and I think we’re all continuing to monitor the situation,” Crelin said. “It’s hard for me to say on a national basis (what will happen) because every region is taking a different approach.… There’s an array of options but it’s more about monitoring at this point.”