The following is from a book written for the 50th annaversary season.
The decade of the '70s can be characterized in two During the 10-year span the Komets won their third Turner Cup championship and third and fourth Huber Trophy ways: It was the best of times, and the worst of times. for finishing first during the regular season. The decade also saw the Komets miss the play offs twice and drop to the bottom of the standings. Individually, there
were exciting and productive newcomers, some of whom became all-time favorites. Players like Robbie Laird, Terry McDougall, AI Dumba, Terry Pembroke, Bryan Shmyr, D'Arcy Keating, Danny Bonar, Dave Norris, Ron Zanussi, Rob Tudor, Bob Fitchner, Brian Walker, Jimmy Pearson, Cal Purinton, Barry Scully and Robbie Irons who came aboard late in the 1960s and remained active until the early 1980s.
The '70s also featured two of the most colorful -- and successful -coaches in the franchise history. First came Marc Boileau, who had haunted the Komets as a player for the old Indianapolis Chiefs. Boileau joined the team in 1970 and as a player and captain. He became head coach in 1971 -72 and led the team to its third Turner Cup championship the next season.
Gregg Pilling came aboard for the 1977-78 season and turned the team into a winner again after four straight losing seasons. Pilling's unorthodox methods - which included changing goalies on the fly- and flamboyant personality excited the fans who turned out in record numbers. It was a fun season from start to almost the finish. The magic wore off in the playoffs when the Komets lost to the Toledo Goaldiggers in the second round of the playoffs.
The decade started slowly, the Komets barely qualifying for the playoffs with a fifth-place finish in a seven-team league. The Komets met Des Moines in the first round and lost in five games. Port Huron, which had finished sixth in the regular season, won the Turner Cup. The Flags upset league Champions Muskegon in the first round and beat Des Moines in the championship series. The IHL was an eight-team, two-division league in 1971-72 with the Komets competing in the South Division along with the Dayton Gems, Des Moines Oak Leafs and Columbus Seals. The Muskegon Mohawks, Port Huron Wings, Flint Generals and Toledo Hornets comprised the North Division. The Komets climbed above the .500 mark with a 37-33-2 record, good enough for second place in the South. The team also improved its playoff performance, beating Des Moines in the first round 3-0. They lost to eventual Champion Port Huron in the second round, 3-2 as each team won its home games.
Then came the storybook 1972-73 season which saw the Komets chase Dayton most of the season and overtaking the Gems with a 17-4-1 run the last six weeks of the season. Boileau hung up his skates to devote full-time to coaching and was blessed with some solid young talent from Pittsburgh of the National Hockey League-players like Brian Walker, Jeff Ablett, Bob Fitchner, Jimmy Pearson and a young goalie by the name of Don Atchison. The youngsters blended well with veterans like Wayne Ego, Chick Balon, Roy Brownlee, Pembroke, Purinton and Irons to produce a balanced team offensively and defensively.
The Komets struggled early offensively, losing five of their first six games. Fitchner, Purinton and Pembroke, provided more than enough muscle. Irons and Atchison were strong in goal. Ego and Walker were effective and productive centers. What the team lacked was a third center who would give the Komets three effective lines.
The third center arrived Jan. 31 when Pittsburgh sent the Komets Jimmy Hrychuik. Hrychuik scored 12 goals and had 11 assistsfor 23 points in the final 22 games of the regular season. With Hrychuik in the lineup, the Komets were 17-4-1. They were 8-2 on the road over that stretch and ended the season with a seven-game winning streak. They finished with 99 Points, Seven better than Dayton.
The momentum carried through the playoffs. The Komets eliminated North Division champion Flint in the opening round in five games. The lone loss was in Flint in overtime. Atchison and Irons shared the James Norris Trophy for allowing the least number of goals in the regular season but Atchison carried the load in the playoffs after the opening game when Irons injured his hand in a bench-clearing brawl.
After Flint, the Komets blew Port Huron away in four games in the championship series. The fourth game was in Port Huron and there were 13 busloads of Fort Wayne fans who made the trip Boileau left early the next season when Pittsburgh offered him the head coaching job. Former Komets star Teddy Wright replaced Boileau but he couldn't find replacements for Hrychuik, Walker, Pearson and rookie Dean Sheremeta who had accounted for 92 goals between them in 1972-73. In addition, Atchison, Ego and Bobby Miller had off seasons. The end result was a last-place finish in the South with a 31-45-0 record and 62 points, one more than Port Huron, last in the North. The Komets had a 10-game losing streak late in the season and won just three of the final 26 games.
Things didn't get any better early the next season. After 10 games the Komets were 1-7-2. Wright resigned and Ralph Keller, who had played for Ullyot as a junior and was a star defenseman for a decade with Hershey of the American League, was his replacement. Things didn't change much on the ice. The Komets finished last in the South again with a 26 44-6 record and missed the playoffsfor a second straight year.
One of the few bright spots was the play of a rookie by the name of Robbie Laird. Des Moines folded after the 1974-75 season and the Komets picked up a little red-headed center in the player pool who would have a great impact on the team for almost a decade. His name was Terry McDougall, He led the Komets in scoring with 88 points. Another newcomer was an impressive rookie defenseman by the name of Brian Shmyr. But team-wise, it was another down year. The Komets finished second in the South Division and sixth overall with 70 points and a 28-36-24 record. They swept Toledo in four straight in the first round of the playoffs but lost to Dayton in the second round in five games. Dayton went on to beat Port Huron for the Turner cup.
Individual accomplishments were the highlight of the 1976-77 season as well. McDougall led the team with 103 points. Laird had 89, But two newcomers stole the spotlight. Rookie Ron Zanussi pumped in 53 goals and his center, Rob Tudor, compiled 92 points. The other winger on the line was Dave Norris, who added 27 goals and 37 assists for 64 points. - 23 -As a team, the Komets were 32-36-10 for 74 points and sixth overall. They came to life briefly in the playoffs, upsetting Dayton in four straight but losing to Toledo in five games.
The four losing seasons reflected at the box office and Keller paid the price. He was replaced by Gregg Pilling, who came from the Eastern League where he played and also began his coaching career. Pilling didn't make any promises when introduced at a press conference other than he'd make the playoffs. That he did, and more. Under Pilling the Komets became an exciting-and unpredictable-team. Also a winner. It didn't come easy. The Komets won just three of the first 11. But gradually, the team started to put things together. The turning point was a three-game road trip in early February. The team played in Saginaw on Friday night, Muskegon Saturday and in Grand Rapids Sunday afternoon. They swept all three and never looked back. They won the regular season championship with 97 points, five better than Saginaw.
Offensively, a rookie by the name of Danny Bonar led the team. He finished with 47 goals and 61 assists for 108 points and was voted the league's most valuable player.
Irons and Murray Bannerman (later to play in the NHL with Chicago) shared goaltending duties - often in the same game when Pilling would change them on the fly.
Playoffs were a different story. The Komets survived the first round against Muskegon but were upset in the second round by their playoff nemesis- Toledo- in five games. Pilling didn't return the next year, taking a position as coach and general manager for a junior team in Canada. That opened the way for IHL veteran defenseman and successful coach in Muskegon, Moose Lallo, to take over as Komets coach. And Lallo kept the Komets winners.
His first team finished second to Grand Rapids with 96 points off a 45-29-6 record. McDougall, laird and AI Dumba- The Western Union line-combined for 356 points. McDougall led the league with a team record Dumba was 45-65-1 10 and Laird 45-62-107. the next half dozen or so years. His name was Barry Scully. second round. Joining the team late in November was a player who would give the fans considerable excitement over The Komets came up short again in the playoffs, losing to Grand Rapids in a seven-game series in the The decade closed with another winning season - but short of the ultimate. With Dumba and Scully providing the offensive spark with 119 and 111 points, respectively, the Komets posted a 40-27-13 record to win the South Division. Scully led the league with 61 goals. McDougall added 93 points. second round in five games to reach the finals against Kalamazoo. After dropping the first game in Kalamazoo 6-1, the Komets won the next two, including the third game in Kalamazoo for a 2-1 lead. But the Wings won the next three games and the series.Carl Purinton: "we were hurting there for a while. Losing sucks. we had some kids on the team that had a lot of talent, but it just never all went together. You struggle and do everything you can and we couldn't even make the playoffs. Then all of a sudden everything is happening.
From the Players:
Robbie Irons on Marc Boileau: "What was interesting to me was when I first came back from St. Louis, he was player-coach. I got to see him as a player, and he was very dedicated. He was a guy that he told you what he wanted and then he went out and actually did it. Here he was in his mid-30's and he wasshowing by example."
Bob Fitchner: 'I started with Marc. He did a lot of team building. He had built up respect. He was tough and and demanding, but also very fair. We just seemed to have a team where everybody got along. We did a lot of things together. We went bowling every Tuesday. All those things seem to build."
Ron Ullyot: "Marc started the bowling the year before. It was a requirement and we had to bring our wives. We were - 24 all there as a group and that was the thing that kind of forced us to be a team off the ice. He made it mandatory and then we liked it. When you think of it, the more you know that person you are playing with, the more you are going to back them up and support them."
Cal Purinton: "Dean Sherematta was our leading goal scorer and we were in the playoffsand he got benched in the first period. He come in the dressing room and started taking off his equipment because he wasn't putting up with this. I said, 'If you don't go out and get a hat trick in the next two periods, I'm going to kick the crap out of you. 'He goes out and gets two goals and a fight. So he comes back and looks at me, but I told him I didn't say two goals and a fight. He comes back and got his third goal. After the game I'm walking by him and say, 'You're welcome.' We had some fun."
Robbie Irons: "We were on a pretty good high and thought we could beat them (Flint). The first game we drilled them (9-0) and that's what upset everybody and embarrassed them. A few things were said and before you know it, the benches empty. Fitchner went over there and popped off. The problem Flint ran into, which they didn't realize, was we had a real tough team."
Bob Fitchner: "That probably helped set the tone for the series. I took one of their center men and he nailed me over the head with a stick. I challenged him to do something and he wouldn't. I said, 'OK, anybody else want to resolve this?' - not using those words - and Rob Cox, one of their young defensemen, left the bench and eventually it was a fairly big donnybrook."
Robbie Irons on Don Atchison: "Because of Boileau and Ullyot's relationship with Pittsburgh, we ended up with Don Atchison.The first game of the play offs I break my hand in a brawl we had. They put him in and he got hot."
Ken Ullyot: "I didn't think we had a chance. We had him all year. We didn't know what would happen, but we had no choice. We couldn't get anybody else. He was unbelievable. He showed signs of being a major league goaltender, but his dad owned a Clothing store back in Saskatoon, so he just quit to stay there."
Ron Ullyot: "He was unbelievable and everybody else was really worried because Robbie had been so hot. We knew we had to help him, but he just stood on his head."
Robbie Irons: "The last 25 games of the season nobody could beat us. They had the all-star teams and not one player from our team made the first or second team. That sort of stirred everybody up, too."
Cal Purinton: "There was a week between games, so we went to Flint that week. When we left Flint to go to Port Huron that night, you knew there wasn't a team in hockey that could beat us that night. Everybody was dead serious. I knew I wasn't coming back, but it was even better to go out on top."
Colin Lister: "We won it on the road and there were more Fort Wayne fans than Port Huron fans. It was not a good crowd, but at least60 percent of it was Fort Wayne."
Bob Fitchner: "There was a tremendous amount of people on the ice, and 1'll bet half the fans were from Fort Wayne. That made it special. A few years later I got to win the AVCO cup in the WHA, and I cherish that Turner cup win every bit as much."
Terry Pembroke: "I do remember that I missed the parade because I stayed out all night and I had to catch up to it. I was
Bob Firchner: "I've got some old photos where I was the police chief for a day, and I was one sorry looking police chief."
Terry Pembroke on the difference between 1965 and 1973: "For this town it was so much different than the time before. Before it was kind of that team had been so good for so long that it was kind of expected of them. With this group, there wasn't any superstars and people identified with them. We had a whole new breed of Komet fans, The whole town came out."
Robbie Irons: 'We started out the next year with a lot of rookies, but we went out there and did great for the first 45 games. Then Boileau left for Pittsburgh, and I broke my hand at home in an accident and then we went on a 15-game losing streak. We could neverturn it around again. The year before we didn't know how to lose, but then we didn't know how to win."
Gregg Pilling: "Fortunately, we had players who liked each other and bought into the plan. They all knew that the coach would get the blame if it didn't work. I always got more fines than rewards. I always believed you had to make the workplace a fun place to be and you had to work on the players' minds as well as their bodies."
Terry Pembroke on Gregg Pilling and the end of his career: "In all my hockey years, that was the best year I had. It was just fun. The pressure wasn't there, and he just had that way about him. We didn't win the cup, but we had a hellova team. That night I knew that was the end. I had already played a year longer than I wanted. The night we got knocked out I had so hung over I almost missed the whole shooting match. I had to jump on the float. It was quite interesting." a little ceremony down on the river and dunked my skates. I was riding horses the next morning."