FORT WAYNE – Bobby Hughes has figured out the simple truth of playing at Memorial Coliseum: Win and the atmosphere will be incredible; lose and the scrutiny is tough.
We’ve got to win games to get the crowd behind us. But it’s a great atmosphere and we’ve got a good team. We’ve just got to keep working hard, said Hughes, whose Komets are 5-4-2 in their first season under coach Gary Graham.
They are riding a season-best three-game winning streak and Hughes has been a huge part of that with five goals.
I’m just trying to be an all-around player and help the team out offensively and defensively, said Hughes, a 26-year-old center.
Hughes has been scrutinized before he even played a game with the Komets, who traded popular center Jean-Michel Rizk to the Alaska Aces to get him last summer.
Hughes had been with Alaska for one season, scoring 15 goals and 39 points in 59 games, but he requested a trade to be closer to his Toronto-area home.
For me, I’m just getting older and wanted to be somewhere closer to home to play. My agent talked to Gary, and this worked out and was a good spot, Hughes said. I’ve got a sister that’s two hours south of here, going to school, and it’s about six hours from home. So it’s good. I loved Alaska, it was a great place to play, but I’m getting too old (to deal with that travel).
In six games this season, Hughes has five goals, six points and a minus-2 rating. By comparison, Rizk, who was quickly traded from Alaska to Greenville, has one goal, three points and a minus-2 rating in 13 games.
Hughes said there has been an adjustment in transitioning from the wide-open Western Conference style of play and, more importantly, from the Alaska Aces’ Olympic-sized ice surface, which is about 13 feet wider than that at the Coliseum.
It definitely is different here, said Hughes, who was a fourth-round draft pick of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and who has spent parts of four seasons in the higher-level American Hockey League.
Especially being in Alaska, we had that great big ice surface and you’re playing a smarter game so you don’t run out of gas.
One of the big reasons the Komets brought Hughes in was for his prowess on faceoffs, which has been apparent in the recent winning streak. They will need it to continue Friday, when they play host to the defending-champion Reading Royals (7-4-0).
But the Royals may have more to worry about than faceoffs, as the line of Hughes, Mike Vaskivuo and Mickey Lang has eight goals and seven assists in the past three games, during which Fort Wayne outscored the opposition 12-9.
I love playing with (Hughes), Vaskivuo said. He’s a great guy on the faceoffs and he’s real calm and real patient. He’s always in the right spot for the puck, so it makes my job easier. I’m sure Langer would agree with that, too. (Hughes) just brings that patience and I like playing with guys like that.
Note: The Komets waived forward John Dunbar, who had one goal, three points and eight penalty minutes in nine games.