If you’ve never heard of the Golden Knights’ new ECHL affiliate, the Fort Wayne Komets, don’t be fooled by a 1-2 start to the season.
Ahead of their home opener tonight against the Kalamazoo Wings, the Midwestern band of brothers have had no fewer than 40 wins for the last four years and are truly a dynasty of minor league hockey.
The Team to Beat (Original IHL, 1952-1993)
Formed in 1952 by Ernie Berg, the original Komets of the now-defunct International Hockey League (IHL) spent the next several years developing. Berg used a tough-man approach to the game to get the job done, which has made the Komets a must-see attraction for more than 65 years.
The Komets had the best home record (28-7-0-1) and attendance figures (7,568 fans per game) last year.
Time to grow as a team paid off as the Komets brought home the league’s Turner Cup in 1963, 1965 and 1973. Regular season championships came in 1959–60, 1962–63, 1972–73, 1977–78 and almost consecutively from 1983–84, 1985–86 and 1986–87.
This stretch unarguably made Fort Wayne the most successful team as they bagged seven IHL championships, the most of any team. The late ‘80s would mark the last hurrah for the original IHL franchise.
Change came with the arrival of the 1990s as the Komets were moved to New York by then-owner David Welker to become the Albany Choppers. However, the demand for hockey in Fort Wayne had become so great the city was only without the Komets for a matter of days.
Modern Fort Wayne fans can thank the city’s Franke family for the team they know and love. In response to the Albany move, the Frankes purchased the IHL’s Flint Spirits and relocated the franchise from Michigan, restoring the Komets name.
“When they moved to Albany, that just about put us out of business,” Stephen Franke said in an original interview with Blake Sebring of The News-Sentinel. “We talked to the league and they put us in contact with Flint...It’s a business decision. We looked at it as an opportunity to come in and make a good deal out of a bad deal and that’s why we did it.”
Hockey is still the Franke family business as brothers Stephen, Michael, Richard, David and William Franke and Scott Sproat serve the Komets ownership team to this day.
Back on track, the Komets would stage a grande finale for the ages in 1992-93, finishing with a record of 49-27-2 with four defeats in shootouts before advancing to the playoffs. Fort Wayne steamrolled the San Diego Gulls in the finals by way of a 4-0 series sweep.
This would be the last time the Komets would achieve postseason glory under the original IHL.
UHL/IHL 2.0 and the CHL (1999-2010)
Relations between the original IHL and NHL grew strained as the IHL expanded into NHL markets. Several of the NHL’s clubs then affiliated with the American Hockey League. By 1997-98, only four of 18 IHL teams had NHL affiliations according to Eric Zweig’s “The Modern Minors” featured in 1998’s Total Hockey.
The Komets would join the United Hockey League (UHL) ahead of the 1999-2000 season and the IHL would cease operations in 2001. Six IHL teams, including the Chicago Wolves, would move up to the AHL the next season.
This would set the stage for the affiliation of the Golden Knights, Wolves and Komets today.
Another plethora of regular season titles would come the Komets’ way through back-to-back championship wins between 2002-04 and a three-season run between 2006-2009. Fort Wayne would capture one league championship, the Colonial Cup, as part of the UHL in 2003.
The UHL would be renamed the IHL prior to the 2007-08 season. Three more consecutive Turner Cup league championships (2008-10) would follow. The Komets became the last champion when the second incarnation of the IHL folded the same year.
The CHL and ECHL (2012-present)
The Komets would go on to win their conference and the Central Hockey League (CHL) overall championship, the Ray Miron President’s Cup to end a two year stint. The East Coast Hockey League has been home for the Komets since Fall 2012.
3 Prospects to Watch
It has taken the orange, black and white some time to find their footing in the new league. The Komets failed to qualify for the playoffs in 2012-13 but it appears the squad is mounting a resurgence. The Komets have made it to the postseason every year since their debut and have two division titles to their credit, the most recent coming just last season.
Hopefully, these names can propel the franchise to a tenth league championship.
Justin Kea - Still a young 24-year-old, Kea is fresh off a career season with the Florida Everblades. The native of Woodville, Ontario had six goals and 11 points in 15 playoff games and career highs of 18 goals, 23 assists and 41 points before that. This led to Florida winning the regular season championship, Brabham Cup.
J.C. Campagna - This 25-year-old is also coming off a season of career highs despite having been all over the map. Between Adirondack, Orlando, Wheeling and the Allen Americans, Campagna put up 11 goals and 35 points in 45 games. This makes up the bulk of his ECHL career figures (17 goals and 45 points in 63 ECHL career games).
Phelix Martineau - This 21-year-old just completed four years of junior play, totaling 90 goals, 91 assists and 181 points in 260 games (including three straight 20+ goal seasons. Martineau lead the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles with 34 goals, 32 assists and 66 points in 68 games last season.
Additionally, Martineau has aided Fort Wayne before. Following two goals and three points in three regular season appearances, he put up four goals and eight points in the playoffs.
Martineau was assigned to the Komets through Montreal’s system.
Catch the game on WOWO (1190 AM,) WKJG (1380 AM,) or stream the game here. Game time is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. CST.