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50th annaversary coverThe following is from a book written for the 50th annaversary season.


The 1990s were very difficult for the Komets at the start and end of the decade, but everything in the middle was wonderful. After a long and bitter dispute with the Memorial Coliseum, Komets owner, David Welker, received permission from the IHL to move the team to Albany, New York,

in June 1990. That started a month of intense speculation and worry from Komets fans as IHL Commissioner Thomas Berry promised there would be hockey in Fort Wayne the next season.
On July 11, 1990, the Franke brothers - Stephen, Michael, David -announced they had purchased the defunct Flint Spirits and moved them to Fort Wayne as the new Komets. The new owners promised a return to "Old-time Komet Hockey," and they delivered. Eventually brothers Bill and Richard also joined the ownership team. Sims remained as coach and built a tough team that included holdovers Colin Chin, Carey Lucyk and Bob Lakso, and added sniper Lonnie Loach and NHL veterans Bruce Boudreau and John Anderson.
The Komets started fast and then played around .500 most of the season, but the rebirth truly took place during the playoffs. Inspired by the play of the Ice Patrol - Robin Bawa, Mike Butters, Steve Fletcher, Tom Karalis and Kevin Kaminski - the Vagabond Komets knocked defending Turner Cup champion Indianapolis out in seven games. Loach scored the series clinching goal in overtime of the last game. The Komets then beat East Division champion Kalamazoo in six thrilling games before falling to Peoria in the six-game Turner Cup Finals. Many long-time IHL followers believe the Rivermen might have been the league's best team of all-time."Nobody wanted US," Boudreau said. "We were the Dirty Dozen of hockey."
       In 1991-92, the Komets celebrated their 40th anniversary with a division championship, but several key injuries late in the season led them to a first-round playoff exit. That only sparked the hunger for the next season. Except the Komets started 2-7 in 1992-93. "No one will remember this lousy start by the end of the season," Sims predicted, and no one did. With Scott Gruhl setting the IHL's all-time career goal scoring record, the Komets defended their division title, and then played the most amazing playoff run in minor league history, maybe in professional hockey history. Behind the play of goaltender Pokey Reddick, Scott Gruhl, Jean-Marc Richard, lgor Chibirev and Chin and Lucyk, the Komets swept three consecutive four-game series over Cleveland, Atlanta and San Diego to claim their fourth and final Turner Cup. Reddick was dominating and was named the MVP. . "They say the cream rises to the top, but Pokey was definitely the mist above the cream," Sims said. The sweep was arguably the most remarkable thing to happen in the Komets' long history. "What's funny is that Bobby Jay, Jean-Marc Richard and I went to dinner in Cleveland the night before the playoffs started, and we talked about how we thought it was possible that we could win 12 in a row," Komets defenseman Grant Richison said. "Who could have dreamed it would come true?" Fort Wayne celebrated, with a Memorial Coliseum crowd of at least 10,000 chanting, "Thank you, Komets." The Komets returned to the Turner Cup Finals the next season under new coach Bruce Boudreau, but were beaten by Atlanta in six games, including a four-overtime Game4 that ended at 12:45 a.m. It was during this four-year period that the Komets became Fort Wayne's passion, filling Memorial Coliseum - or the Jungle as it came to to be known - to 95 percent capacity and sparking the discussion that eventually let to the building's renovation in 2001. Sadly, Komets greats such as Chin, Fletcher, and Lucyk were finishing their careers in the mid-1990's, and the team faltered in 1996-97, producing the worst record in franchise history. The squad rebounded in 1997-98 as General Manager David Franke built the most interesting team in the IHL. First, Franke hired a new coach in John Torchetti, a tough-talking Italian from Boston who taught his team how to battle. The Komets also built around stand bys such as Lee Davidson and Guy Dupuis. Torchetti helped acquire goaltenders Bruce Racine and future NHL star Kevin Weekes, and then Franke got inspired. He first signed right wing Konstantin Shafranov and then center viacheslav Butsayev signed as a free agent. Then in November, he traded with Las Vegas for winger Andrei Bashkirov to form the MiG Line. "They're the closest thing to NHL players and an NHL line in this league for sure," Cincinnati coach Ron Smith said. "You could take them right now and move them up. The only question is how they would stand up to the pressure because you don't get quite as much ice to do all the things they do. They're a treat and good for the league." No one in the IHL could catch them. The Komets got blisteringly hot in the second half of the season and won their last IHL division title. Racine set Komets records for goals against average and save percentage to finish second in the IHL MVP voting. Butsayev was third. Unfortunately, just like in 1992, the Komets suffered a string of injuries at the end of the season and were knocked out of the playoffs. With Bashkirov and Butsayev signing new NHL contracts, the Komets struggled again in the 1998-99 season, which also turned out to be the last for standouts Ian Boyce and Robin Bawa. It would also be the last for the Komets in the International Hockey League. Despite Ken Ullyot's lone negative vote in 1984, the league had agreed to expand West by adding Phoenix and Salt Lake City. That expansion led to several major markets joining the IHL, with huge expansion fees, but travel expenses and the owners' ego exploded. It became much more difficult for the Komets to keep pace financially as salary budgets passed $2 million. The IHL's average ticket price was $12.50, and the Komets' was $9. The last five Turner Cup champions had been the teams with the highest payrolls. Finally, following the 1998-99 season and four years of financial losses, the Frankes announced the team was leaving the IHL after 47 years. The Komets played their last game in the IHL April 23, 1999, losing 4-1 to Kalamazoo. The IHL's cornerstone franchise could no longer afford to stay in the league it helped build and often save. "It's a situation where the hockey world is changing, and it's a fact of the times," said John Ferguson, the first Komet to make it to the NHL and then a scout with the San Jose Sharks. "Look at the Canadian clubs which have lost their franchises in Winnipeg and Quebec City because they could not afford it anymore. The players don't play with the logo attached to their backsides anymore; they play where they can get the best salary and that has hurt the smaller-market teams." But the IHL's loss also meant that it was time for Fort Wayne hockey to move into a new era to start the new millennium.

 

From the Players:

Al Sims on the lndianapolis rivalry: "The teams intensely dislike each other. You don't have to say a thing in the locker room. It's just one of those things."

Lonnie Loach on the overtime goal versus Indianapolis: "I was just trying to get something away before he got me to the point where I couldn't shoot. He didn't get enough of me. I just tried to get it on net. I didn't see it go in, but I heard everybody start screaming." 

Bruce Boudreau: "Nobody wanted us. We were the Dirty Dozen of hockey." Eddie Long on the 1990-91 Vagabond Komets: "I don't think it was the best team ever, but it had the most heart of any team I saw play here." 

Colin Chin: "I remember when we got beat by Peoria, and I've never seen 20 grown men cry so hard. It wasn't because we lost, but was because we knew we would never play on a team that was that close and that special again."

Lonnie Loach: "That was the best hockey team I've played on as far as a group of guys. We were all trying to work to help everybody else move on. I haven't been on a team that close to being that close since."

Milch Messier: "Nobody talks as much on the ice as Chimer. Shoot, I used to talk to him twice as much as an opponent as I do now." 

Colin Chin on Memorial Coliseum: "There's nothing like it when you do something right and you've got 8,000 people cheering for you. But then again, how many people when they screw up on the line at GM have 8,000 people yelling at them?"

Scott Gruhl on the IHL goal-scoring record: "I've had some time to reflect on it and the fact that I knew this time would come. I'll talk to Joe Kastelic when he comes to town and ask him how he feels about it, how did he feel being No. 1 on the list. All I know is that there's a couple of guys out there with a chance to beat it. If it happens, that's fine because I'll be there to shake his hand."

Al Sims on a 2 - 7 starting 1992-93: "No one will remember this lousy start by the end of the season." Joel Savage: "We made a commitment to each other. Look, we're all kind of throwaways from everyone else, and we've got something to prove to people." 

Al Sims on Pokey Reddick: "They way the cream rises to the top, but Pokey was definitely the mist above the cream." 

Grant Richison: "What's funny is that Bobby Jay, Jean-MarcRichard, and I went to dinner in Cleveland the night before the playoffs started, and we talked about how we thought it was possible that we could win 12 in a row. Who could have dreamed it would come true?"

AI Sims; "Nobody wanted to talk about it because we were just trying to win every game. Nobody wanted to discuss that we were 8-0, 9-0 or whatever. I didn't even think about going undefeated until that last game when we were up 5-1 with 10 minutes left."

Bruce Boudreau on Steve Fletcher: "When Fletchie's suited up, the whole team plays bigger."

Jeff Rohlicek after Dave Farrish did a striptease: "If he had taken his shirt off, it probably would have been a gross misconduct instead of a game misconduct."

David Franke: "Colin Chin being with the Komets is like the K being on the crest of the jersey."

Mitch Messier on Colin Chin's 700th career game: "I think he should get out. There are kids out there working hard with good attitudes, and then you have dinosaurs like him clinging on for dear life."

Colin Chin on Carey Lucyk: "He's the kind of guy who is never going to be a flashy person. He's a steady, steady player. The players who played with him always appreciated him and respected his ability. Ask any guy that played with him, and he always did his job, and that's all you can ask."

Danny Lambert, all 5-8, 177 pounds of him: "You don't want a piece of this. I could snap at any time, and it would be all Over."

Paul Broten on watching from the stands: "You can see things a lot easier up here than you can on the ice. When you're the eye in the sky on the news crews, you know exactly where the traffic jam is, but you don't if you are the guy down on the highway."

AI Sims on coming back to coach against the Komets: "I'm sure if there's a big cheer coming from the wrong side of the ice, I won't have to guess too much at who it's for. I'll hear it, and it will be a nice welcome. Then I'm sure all the Fort Wayne Fans will want to kick my butt."

Chris Armstrong on the MiG Line: "Sometimes you can just get them the puck, and they can make magic."

Ian Boyce on a broken nose: "It's a good thing I got married two weeks ago because who would have me now?"

Kelly Hurd on breaking a slump: "I've slept with a puck and stick before. If I keep going the way I am, I may have to sleep with all my equipment on."

Colin Chin on the Komets leaving the IHL: "I always measured myself against the guys who came before me. I remember Lionel Repka, George Drysdale, Len Thornson and Hartley McCleod. When I got a chance to play, I was measuring myself against them, because that's who the whole league was measured against. When we won a championship, it was the Turner Cup, the same thing that Lenny Thornson or Eddie Long (won). That's what's sad to me;

Kelly Hurd on coming back to Fort Wayne: "I'm really excited because when I played here I always got butterflies. It didn't matter if I had already played 200 games here or not, I got butterflies every time I stepped on the ice in the jungle. Some of my best memories are from here."

Keli Corpse: "Boys, don't let me fight tonight. I don't want to pump the other team up too much."

Kelly Hurd on being the Komets' captain: "To me this is an incredible honor. To follow in the footsteps of the guys I played with and respected so much is an amazing honor. I learned a lot from all of them, but I never thought I'd be following in their footsteps."

Trainer Shawn Dundon to hard Darren Martens: "When are you going to get in a fight and take a right so we can get your nose straightened out?"