For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blakesebring and at his blog www.tailingthekomets.com.
Komets at South Carolina
Face-off: 7 p.m.
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM
If you've ever wondered what it would be like as an average Joe, rec league player or even a die-hard fan to play with the Komets, Larry Schmitt was your Walter Mitty or Rudy on Sunday.
The Komets public address announcer, 48 but now feeling 58, played two shifts in the alumni game at Kalamazoo.
"I'm speechless,'' Schmitt said. "It's the best two minutes I've ever spent in my life.''
Well, that's remarkable because he's never been speechless about the Komets since his parents started taking him to the games as a newborn. The things Schmitt says over the microphone are tame compared to his observations away from it. Shoot, he once had his head shaved after betting his coiffure if the Komets won a championship. With the bald spot, it took only a couple of minutes to lose the rest.
This time, when it looked like the Komets would have a difficult time filling out the roster for the game, Schmitt let it be known he'd be available -- famous last words! He bought new, lighter skates that he used a couple of times to stretch out, skated with the legends in a practice and even rode his bike to work one day to work on his legs.
"It made me realize that you can't just say 'Hey I'm going to start skating' and six days later play in a huge game,'' he said.
True, the alumni players all have muscle memory of what it's like to play in a real game, and Schmitt has no muscle and no memory, though he sometimes used to skate with Komets during summer workouts.
The last time Schmitt played in a rec league game was two years ago, though he does play a few roller hockey games each summer. That's a big difference compared to playing guys who hung up their skates within the last year or two.
"I've been waiting for this my whole life,'' he said two days before the game. "Now the guys that I grew up watching and the guys that I announced for, I finally get a chance to get on the ice with them. It's a dream.''
Schmitt did say if he embarrassed himself, he hoped he'd be the first guy laughing. As long as he had teeth left, he'd have a big smile on his face.
Well, he didn't embarrass himself, though his short, choppy skating stride is reminiscent of the movie "Happy Feet,'' and he did get left all by himself in front of the Fort Wayne net for a Kalamazoo goal. By the time Schmitt turned his head, Kalamazoo coach Nick Bootland was already sliding by for an easy score.
"I didn't know if I was forward or defense because the coach just said to go out there,'' Schmitt said. "There was no defense out there. I look up, and there's (Brian) McKee and there's (Steve Fletcher) Fletch over there, and I'm trapped.''
Then Schmitt had to make the skate of shame back to the bench.
He said he was never nervous, handling the puck only once to make a quick if inaccurate pass. He didn't look out of place, but he realizes his best place is back behind the microphone. His teammates are still pretty good hockey players.
"You can see, always an athlete and no matter how many beers you put in you, you still have that killer mentality when you go on the ice,'' he said. "It just comes back. The motion is always there, and the brain is always thinking about where the puck is going to be and where should I be. For a novice like me, watching a lot of games I can look at it and see what's happening, but I just can't get there.''
Retired pro players may lose their legs and their conditioning, but they never lose their hands or their instincts.
"Just the amount of speed these guys can generate so quickly is amazing,'' Schmitt said. "Even guys who haven't played in 30 years are great. They train and that stuff just comes back when they get out on the ice.
"There have been a lot of people who wonder, but when you see what these guys can do up close, you understand you can't just jump into this situation. Not anybody can be a professional hockey player. These guys have dedicated their entire lives to it, and now 30 years later they can just turn it on with a flick of the switch.''
And yes, he kept all his teeth and his smile is still glowing.