FORT WAYNE – When forward Mike Vaskivuo played in the first game of the season, and took his first hard check into the boards, he didnt feel pain.
He felt at home.
After spending last season in Grenoble, France, where the ice surfaces are larger, hitting is sparser and the game is more about creativity than grit, Vaskivuo is enjoying being back in North America with the Komets.
I kind of like getting hit, Vaskivuo said. Youre awake then. You get bumped a little more often and feel like youre in the game more.
It may be counterintuitive since Vaskivuos game is sometimes very European; he provides more highlight-reel moments than anyone on the Komets.
His best this season came Nov. 15 against Toledo. He skated into the offensive zone and attempted to flick the puck on net, only it caught the blade of a defending players skate and caromed right back to Vaskivuo. He grabbed the puck, twirled in the right circle and lasered a pass to Bobby Hughes, who scored in a 5-4 overtime victory.
Seeing that sort of play from Vaskivuo isnt new. He played for Fort Wayne in 2011-12 and was the CHLs Playoff MVP, as Fort Wayne won its last Cup. In six regular-season games that season, after he was waived by Rapid City, he had two goals and nine points. In the postseason, he had 10 goals and 24 points in 18 games.
But then he took off for France, where he had 19 goals and 33 points in 31 games.
There are a lot of older players from the American Hockey League and former ECHL guys there. The top two lines in that league are just as competitive as here. Its just a different style, said Vaskivuo, who was eager to return to Fort Wayne because he missed the North American-style of hockey and had tired of the language barrier.
The Komets, who play tonight at Elmira, N.Y., are off to a 7-7-3 start. Vaskivuo has three goals, 16 points (third most on the team) and a team-best plus-4 rating.
Obviously, Im a good skater, and I feel speed is a big part of my game, said Vaskivuo, 27, who was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and grew up in Helsinki, Finland, and then West Palm Beach, Fla.
Weve got a lot of speed on this (team), he said. A lot of guys on this team would do well in Europe. Weve got a lot of good skating guys. We just have to mesh together.
This is the first meeting between Fort Wayne and Elmira (5-10-2) since the Nov. 25 trade: Fort Wayne sent captain Nick Tuzzolino to the Jackals for defenseman Jordon Southorn.
Tuzzolino has since been called up to Rochester of the AHL, while Southorn has two goals and three points in three games for the Komets, who won one of those contests.
The Komets play at defending-champion Reading, Pa., on Saturday before facing the Jackals again Sunday. With Fort Wayne already seven points behind division-leading Cincinnati, the Komets need to start winning more often.
Vaskivuo will be an important factor in that. And if he gets hit along the way, so be it.
Its definitely more physical (in North America) with the ice surface being smaller. And its a different style of hockey, he said. But I think it suits my game as well. Im a pretty strong kid, and I like to bump and grind here and there.