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Komets

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    The grin on coach Gary Graham’s face these days isn’t just because he’s gotten the Komets back into the playoffs in his first season. It’s also because this is the time of year he loves.
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    The Komets are one of the ECHL’s hottest teams heading into the playoffs: They are 8-2-1 in their past 11 games, and they hope they are peaking at just the right time. “Hopefully.
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Komets
vs. Toledo
When: 8 p.m. Friday
at Evansville
When: 8:15 p.m. Saturday
vs. Gwinnett
When: 5 p.m. Sunday
Radio: 1190 AM, 92.3 FM
Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Mike Embach, going for the puck under Scott Fleming, was traded to the Komets on Dec. 12 as part of a five-player deal.

New Komet enjoys passion of fanbase

Embach

– Mike Embach has heard the boos at Memorial Coliseum.

And, unlike some players, he appreciates them.

After playing for teams that hardly drew any fans, or had fans who didn’t know hockey, he embraces the expectations of Komets fans.

“Guys are getting booed and stuff, and they haven’t had that anywhere else I’ve played,” said Embach, who was the centerpiece of the five-player trade with Gwinnett on Dec. 12.

“Not enough fans and not enough people who understand the game (in those places), especially not in Gwinnett, (Ga.). The fans don’t have a clue what they’re doing there. I like it, though; it makes you really work on your game.”

Embach has played in a lot of markets – Chicago, Cincinnati and Gwinnett of the ECHL, plus Texas and Lake Erie of the higher-level American Hockey League – but none have the fan base of Fort Wayne. The Komets average 7,324 fans, second in the ECHL to Ontario’s 7,756.

“To come here, it feels like you’re going into (the movie) ‘Slap Shot’ every day. It’s awesome,” said Embach, a 25-year-old forward from Orland Park, Ill. “There’s so much history and excitement here with the rink and this organization that you want to do well. I’ve never played in a place where the fans let you hear it as much as they do here. You’re really held accountable to how you play, and so far I love that.”

Embach has one goal and five points in four games with the Komets, who are 2-1-1 with him in the lineup. They lost back-to-back games to Reading at the Coliseum last weekend, 5-1 and 2-1 in an overtime shootout, as Embach experienced the demanding home atmosphere.

He played for Cincinnati last season, scoring 18 goals and 34 points in 55 regular-season games. With Komets coach Gary Graham watching from the stands, he had five goals and 17 points in 17 playoff games for the Cyclones, but he didn’t get along with new Cyclones coach Ben Simon and was traded five games into this season.

He had six goals and 10 points in 11 games with Gwinnett, but the Gladiators needed depth and promised to get Embach to a place where he’d have a better chance of being called up and get him closer to home.

Graham had coveted Embach since last season and traded Bobby Hughes, Rob Kwiet and Brett Lyon for Embach and Nathan Martine.

“It was one of the most interesting trades I’ve been a part of because the coach in Gwinnett had my best interests in hand,” Embach said.

The Komets play host to Toledo on Friday, are at Evansville on Saturday and play host to Gwinnett on Sunday. Even though the Komets are 10-9-5 in Graham’s first season as coach, Embach believes they will improve soon.

“Just from playing against the Komets early in the year, I knew they had a really high-powered offense. You can’t give half these guys a chance or they’re going to bury it. So I was excited to come into that,” Embach said.

Note: As part of Operation Komet Care Package, fans are encouraged to bring items Friday, Sunday and Tuesday to be donated to overseas troops. Some recommended items are books, magazines, DVDs, snacks, T-shirts, toiletries, wrapped hard candies, sanitizers and wet wipes.

jcohn@jg.net

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