Tuesday, July 7, 2015


So he'll move on now, from a homegrown career that was almost entirely homemade. Kaleigh Schrock got the cutesy nickname "Schrocky Balboa" because of his willingness to drop the gloves anywhere, anytime against any cementhead imported for the purpose. But somehow there was always more to it than that.

Like his almost-namesake, he was the hometown guy who came up mostly from nowhere, riding heart and want-to and a gift for leading by example. In 2009, he came to camp with the Komets as a face in the crowd who would have been even more anonymous had he not been from Fort Wayne; he stuck because Al Sims couldn't bring himself to cut this kid who left everything he had on the ice every single minute of every single shift, and who would have thrown down against the young Ali if that's what was required of him.

Six years later, he'll walk away with two rings from two leagues and the captain's "C" on his sweater, and there have been few better. When the Komets made him captain at midseason in 2013 with the team in disarray and the shadow of the Captain, Colin Chaulk, still seven leagues tall, it looked to some like a woeful mismatch . As usual, Schrock proved us all wrong.

Everything he learned while watching Chaulk own the locker room he applied, and by the end of the season the Komets were in the ECHL playoffs and it was Schrock who owned the room. He did what the best of them do, which was lead by example. If he didn't always skate a regular shift, and some fans carped that he was taking up a roster spot better used on a more talented body, they missed a  home truth that was as glaring as it was subtle: The Komets were a demonstrably better team when Schrock was on the ice.

He brought hustle and energy and an edge the team simply was lacking when he was out of the lineup. And perhaps -- just perhaps -- he brought perspective, too.

Fort Wayne may not be a destination in the ECHL, a minor league more truly a developmental league than any the Komets have previously inhabited in almost 65 years. But it's not just a bus stop, either. There is a weight of history behind the franchise unique to this level, and there is a defined Komet Way that goes with that.

Schrock, having grown up in its sphere, was supremely qualified to instill that. If the prospects lugging their bags into town each fall were destined to wear any number of logos on their chests in the coming  months, they should at least understand what was back of the orange fireball they would wear here. And why it demanded their respect.

Schrock, who grew up wanting only to wear that fireball, would certainly clue them in. And now that he's walking away at 30, a decision hastened by a severe eye injury he suffered this past season, the biggest question out there is who will next wear the "C", and if he will have as much understanding of what it means as Schrock does.

Which, of course, is what we were all wondering when Chaulk took his leave.

If there's a finer legacy than that for Kaleigh Schrock, I can't imagine what it is.

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