By TERRY HUTCHENS
Of The News-Sentinel
With or without David Welker, hockey will remain in Fort Wayne for the 1990-91 season.
At least that's the opinion of International Hockey League Commissioner Tom Berry, who made it clear yesteryday that the IHL will be playing hockey in Fort Wayne next season.
"It's not a rumor, it's a fact,""Berry said. "Fort Wayne has had 39 years in this league, and there's no way we want to lose that association.
"We need to be in Fort Wayne. Fort Wayne is the perfect place for an IHL franchise."
The Komets' proposed move to Albany, N.Y., will be the second item on the International Hockey League's Board of Governors' agenda this afternoon in Vancouver, British Columbia The commissioner expects a decision on Welker's request by 5 p.m. Fort Wayne time. Because the governors have had four days to consider the issue, however, Berry said the decision could be reached much sooner.
The vote on whether to grant Albany a franchise will be the third such vote in the past year. Ironically, Welker was on the committee that voted down the previous two requests.
Welker has signed an agreement with the 15,000-capacity Knickerbocker Arena to move his hockey team to New York's capital city.
If the IHL doesn't approve the franchise transfer, Welker. 53, said he's prepared to have his franchise sit out a year rather than play in Fort Wayne.
"I have several options," Welker said. "I can suspend operations for a year in Fort Wayne for $10,000, and that would be the first thing I would do. I cannot be with that building, and I cannot afford to subsidize this for a group of fans that don't care."
If Welker's move is approved, Berry believes it is critical that new ownership be in place immediately.
In order for new ownership to be successful, I would think they would have to be completely operational by the first of July." he said.
Berry said there are serious discussions in progress between the league and unidentified parties interested in obtaining a new Fort Wayne franchise. He added that in Fort Wayne's case, approval could be no more than a telephone conference call away.
"Fort Wayne speaks for itself," Berry said. "It's not the same as if we were looking at Fresno, Calif., or East Liverpool, Ohio, where we didn't know much about their situation. We're very familiar with Fort Wayne, and so I think it would be more of shuffling of paper work than .anything else."
Memorial Coliseum General Manager Phil Olofson said 26 weekend and holiday dates have already been reserved for the Komets to use next year. Organizing a schedule would be no problem.
If membership is transferred, Welker would have the option of taking the Komets name with him to Albany, but Berry doubts that would happen. He said Welker could sell the name to the new owners for a dollar, or other arrangements could be made.
Welker needs seven of 10 votes by the board of governors to make the move. Since Welker's announcement earlier this week, several hockey officials have echoed Berry's contention that a Fort Wayne franchise will remain in the league. Welker has said that along with the Komets name, that players and coaches could alio remain in Fort Wayne with the new franchise.
But Berry isn't quite so sure.
"If he's moving his franchise, 1 would think he would be moving his players with him." Berry said.