By Jason Shaya

June 28, 2022

“If a captain’s highest goal was to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever.” – Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Ryan Schmelzer was named team captain for the Utica Comets last season. From then on, he took his team into battle every night with the idea that leadership means putting your head down and getting to work. There were no flowery pre-game speeches to his team or emotional post-game remarks after wins or losses. He was silent in his pursuit of a team goal, but his actions spoke loudly.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Schmelzer and his family found their way to Buffalo, New York. It was there that he captained the OJHL Jr. Sabers and caught the eye of Canisius College where he ended up playing Division I hockey for four seasons. It’s not always easy for a freshman to work his way up the roster, but that’s what Schmelzer did. He played in 36 of 37 games and led the freshmen in scoring with 14 points while leading the entire team in plus/minus with a +15. He was named to the Atlantic Academic Hockey All-Star Team for all four years of his collegiate career. Whether it’s scoring big goals, blocking shots, or turning in missions with high ratings, Schmelzer has proven to be more than capable.

Canisius head coach Trevor Large told the Buffalo News during the Comets’ playoff series against Rochester that he wasn’t surprised Schmelzer was chosen to wear the “C” on his jersey in Utica. “There are different types of leaders, but the way Ryan is, leadership ability oozes out of him,” Large said. “It’s in a very quiet place, very serious, very eg in the way he carries himself. I’m not surprised he’s a captain in Utica. He was a hell of a captain here. That’s who he is.”

There was excitement among Comets fans when it was announced last week that Schmelzer was set to return for two more seasons. That makes sense for him in many ways, especially considering he thrived offensively last season under head coach Kevin Dineen. Posting a career-high 18 goals and 32 points in 64 games played, the captain ranked sixth in team scoring at the end of the season. Although its value is not measured solely in points. It’s his style of play that sets the example and inspires his teammates to bring their games up to his level of effort. He understands that being captain is more than having a letter sewn into your hockey jersey. It’s about stepping into the breach and doing the work.

“I wouldn’t say I have a definitive leadership style. I think it’s important to be versatile and have a good sense of the room. First and foremost, leading by example is a must. That’s the easiest part of being a leader in my opinion,” Schmelzer said. “It’s easy to show up, work hard and set an example for everyone. But for the most part, I’m someone who wants everyone included. I seek to connect with people and get to know them individually, so I know when it’s a good time to lean on them or not. Keeping the room calm and easy-going, but focused, is what I aim to do.

With a new contract signed, the captain is eager to get back to work and avenge last year’s playoff loss to Rochester. “As a group we were quite bitter about how the season ended. We felt we had the team to go far in the playoffs and obviously that didn’t happen,” Schemlzer remarked. “Although it was painful, I think it was a great learning experience for the group. We will use this knowledge to go even further. We are excited and expecting big things.

There is still work to be done and the Captain knows there is another battle to be fought.

Sherry J. Basler