Komets coach Ben Boudreau had hoped to use a home-and-home exhibition series with the Wheeling Nailers to determine who should make the roster, what line combinations make sense and that everyone understands the team’s systems.
But that series was canceled today because at least one player tested positive for COVID-19, meaning Fort Wayne will go into the Oct. 23 regular-season opener at Memorial Coliseum without having played a game as a unit.
With only six players back from last season, the Komets could have used the time to jell. The good news is that going into last season the Komets had a similar amount of turnover and didn’t have the benefit of a preseason -- they started after the other 13 competing teams were well into the regular season -- and Fort Wayne went on to win the Kelly Cup. There were some early hiccups with an 0-1-2 start, but the Komets then went on a 10-0-1 run before finishing the regular season 29-16-5.
“We use these (preseason games) to get going with your team and get on the same pages,” Boudreau said. “As we saw last season, it was a really tough start for us without the exhibition games. But we’re still in evaluation mode.
"When you have this much turnover on a team, you want to see what everybody can bring to the table. There are lots of guys looking to leave a mark and an impression. Without playing these two games, we won’t get to see guys in that game action and make decisions based off their play.”
At least two Fort Wayne players will have to quarantine, Boudreau said, likely taking them out of the regular-season opener against the Nailers.
Fort Wayne’s roster has 25 players, and they can carry up to 21 on the active roster (not including those injured) the first month of the season. However, Zach Tolkinen is injured, Sam Babintsev is awaiting immigration clearance and Blake Siebenaler and Tyler Busch remain with Henderson of the higher-level American Hockey League.
So, the Komets may need to pick up a couple more players, though the team cannot skate until at least Monday as it makes sure no one else tests positive for COVID-19.
“For a team that was already short players, we just lost another couple of guys (to positive tests), so we’ll have to go out there and try to fill their spots and make sure that we’ve got a full lineup come opening night,” Boudreau said. “We’re dealing with this situation, and we’ve got to go out there and make sure we’ve got a competitive roster.”
In lieu of tonight’s game at Wheeling, West Virginia, the Nailers planned to have an intrasquad scrimmage open to fans. Fans who held tickets to Saturday's game at Memorial Coliseum can get refunds at the points of purchase.
“We are sorry that both games have to be canceled this weekend, but both teams have agreed that this is in the best interest of everyone,” Komets president Michael Franke said.
The Komets didn't have any positive COVID-19 tests last season.