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Last updated: Fri. Apr. 26, 2013 - 09:40 am EDT

Komets-Ice rivalry should be renewed

FORT WAYNE — So. I did forget something.

But it’s been almost 20 years and my mind is not the steel trap it once was – it has, sadly, reverted to its original element, aluminum foil – and, well, you can’t remember everything. So now Michael Franke is on the phone and we’re reminiscing about the days o’ spite between the Fort Wayne Komets and the Indianapolis Ice, and suddenly he begins to chuckle.

“They called us the Evil Empire,” he says. “Remember that?”

And then I do: The Fort Wayne Komets, aka the Evil Fort Wayne Komets. So dubbed by Ray Compton back when he was a marketing genius for the Ice.

“They were masters of that kind of stuff,” Franke says. “And it was all in fun.”

A pause.

“When we think back on the 20-some years we’ve been doing this, we can’t think of any rivalry that was more intense or better than the one with the Indianapolis Ice,” he goes on. “I was challenged to fights down there by fans that knew we were involved with the Komets. It was just an electric atmosphere every time we played those guys.”

And then he chuckles again, and, listen, this is not just some aimless stroll through the garden of memories. Komets-Ice is relevant again because Indy-Fort Wayne might be relevant again in a hockey sense, if the ECHL’s interest in Indianapolis can be reciprocated.

“We learned within the last year that the renovation of (Pepsi Coliseum) will go ahead, and we did our research and just found a lot of positive aspects,” ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna says. “First and foremost, the hockey tradition there, with pro hockey having been in Indianapolis going back many decades. And I think the bigger thing is just simply the geography, and the fact there is a history there of rivalries.

“Seems like a natural fit.”

Couldn’t be more so, and not just because of the whole Fort Wayne-Indy-Cincinnati-Evansville geographic axis. Who wouldn’t want to see Komets-Ice again? Who wouldn’t want to revive all of that delicious enmity?

If you weren’t around for it, suffice it to say it was one of those deals around which mythology grows like brambles in a fence row. Did Kerry Toporowski and Steve Fletcher really drop the gloves every time they played? Is Lonnie Loach still lugging the puck wearily up ice with Cam Russell in equally weary pursuit? And were Mike and David Franke ever really that young?

Komets-Ice for me will always be that night in the Pepsi Coliseum 22 years ago, when the two teams played a Game 7 for the ages. Jimmy Waite a locked door in the Indy goal and Stephane Beauregard a magician in the Komets’. Loach’s final dead-legged rush in overtime. The exhausted vacancy in Komets defenseman Danny Lambert’s eyes in the locker room; a pair of excitable young hockey execs risking major orthopedic trauma by charging precariously onto the ice when it was done, fists pumping.

“It was probably the biggest game ever in the history of our owning this team,” says Michael Franke, one of those execs, 22 years later. “Had we lost that game, nobody really knows for sure what would have happened with all of this. When you stop and think about it, that whole playoff season is what really, really got the motor running on the Komet hockey team again.

“Who knows what would have happened had we lost that night?”

Better question: Who can wait for what happens next?

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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