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February 2017
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While they were finishing plans to leave the IHL, the Franke brothers also had to decide which league the Komets would land in. After long discussions with the Central Hockey League, the Komets decided on joining the Midwest-based United Hockey League. The UHL already had former long-time IHL foes Flint, Muskegon, Port Huron, and Saginaw playing, and the geography of the league was attractive to the Komets. "I think you'll see the old 'I' but with a different name," long-time Komets' defenseman Carey Lucyk said. "I think you'll see some of the teams that we used to see here, and I think hockey fans will enjoy that. You'll see an increase in the enthusiasm of the players, who will stick around longer and get more involved in the community, and the fans will get more involved again, also." The Komets were also attractive to the UHL, which was looking for credibility in the hockey world.
"The biggest thing I would say is, 'Welcome home,'" Flint General Manager Robbie Nichols said. "This is where they belong. The leagues have changed and this is the old IHL. These are the rivalries they used to have."
Switching leagues also gave the Komets a chance to be a big dog again instead of the small market struggling to survive.
"They can be a model franchise," Quad City General Manager Howard Cornfield said. "If you go through the great players who have come out to Fort Wayne, a lot of them have been muckers and grinders, and that's what the fans will have in this league. I think they can step in right away with the contacts they have, and they'll be one of the favorites to win the league next year."
It didn't quite work that way immediately, but it sure was interesting as the team was guided by coach Dave Allison. The Komets drew the largest Fort Wayne hockey crowd in more than 25 years, 8,358, to watch their first home game in the United Hockey League on Oct. 23, 1999. The Komets beat Knoxville, 5-3.
Much like the 1990-91 rebirth season, these new Komets struggled in the first half of the season, but then got hot in the second half behind the play of center Keli Corpse and UHL Rookie of the Year Jason Goulet. The Komets set UHL records for points (87) and wins (40) by an expansion team. Former IHL Komets Kelly Hurd, Keli Corpse and lgor Malykhin returned with UHL veteran Bruce Ramsay to lead the way.
chaulk 39After blowing past Ashville in the first round of the playoffs, the Komets also became the first UHL expansion team to win two rounds in the playoffs, beating B.C., 4-2, in a classic series. The ride came to an end in the semifinals against Quad City, but not before the Komets set another first by playing three consecutive overtime games. Because of their success, the Komets were named the UHL's Franchise of the Year, drawing more than 200,000 fans.
With Allison getting a promotion to Milwaukee of the IHL, the Komets signed Greg Puhalski as coach and he helped David Franke build a team blessed with speed. Except they started out slow, sitting at 13-15 at Christmas.
Finally, the team stabilized with the additions of Brent Gretzky, Konstantin Simchuk and Christian Bragnalo. Frederic Bouchard continued as the UHL's best offensive defenseman, goaltender Doug Teskey got hot and rookie Mike McKay blossomed in thesecond half to finish with 38 goals.
The Komets went 29-9-2 to win their first division title in the UHL.
During the playoffs, the Komets won a tough series over Missouri, and appropriately enough Lonnie Loach 10 years after his miracle goal, before getting knocked out again by Quad City.
The playoff losses hurt, but they also showed that for the first time in years, the Komets had achieved stability. Their fans were returning to give the UHL a chance and the play continued to improve. For the first time in a decade, the Komets didn't have to worry if there would be a future for hockey in Fort Wayne. Which also means they can start building on a second 50 years.