Forward Mark Smith has announced he's leaving the Fort Wayne Komets to play for a team in Norway. Smith, the Komets' second-leading scorer, told coach Greg Puhalski of his decision at practice this morning at McMillen Park Ice Arena. He's leaving Monday and won't play for the Komets this weekend.
"It's just because they came up with a really good offer," Smith said. "You have to take them when they come your way. It is a good chunk of money. You always get paid well over there and it's tax free. Going to Europe is more my style of game. I'm getting older and my dream of playing in the NHL is not very good. That's where you 're going to make the most of your money."
Smith said he twice turned down European offers this season. The Komets tried to talk him out of it, but Smith had already made his decision.
"It's not about the money (here) or anybody," he said. "I've been having a hard time sleeping the past couple of days because this is a big decision. Players come and go all the time. I hate to do it because we're just starting to become a great team. I can't stress enough that it's not about anybody on the team. They gave me all the respect. It's not that I'm not happy here. This is just too good a deal to pass up."
Smith is signed for the rest of this season and has a guaranteed contract for next season in Norway. The news is so fresh that he couldn't immediately recall the name of the city where he would be playing.
"One man's loss is another man's opportunity I guess," Komets coach Greg Puhalski said. "We have some extra forwards around here. We'll see what they have. He wants to play in Europe and there's no sense whining about it. We'll go with what we have and do what we have to do."
Komets General Manager David Franke said the team will continue looking for players, though he was shocked at Smith's move.
"There was nothing we could say or do that was going to change his mind," Franke said. "For the short-term we'll go with what we've got, and we'll look for a replacement. I don't know if that will happen or when, but we'll be looking.
"It's disappointing because we had made some moves, and I think we had the team turned around and headed in the right direction," Franke said. "Now this comes along and we have to re-tool again."
The worst news for the Komets might be the fact that Smith is not a veteran, and the Komets have already have the maximum of seven that they can play in each game. Franke said there's a possibility the team will sign an eighth veteran if necessary.