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With or without Bruner, Gems will play

Strange things amiss in Dayton with 'freaked out' owner

The IHL has pledged that the Dayton Gems will continue playing hockey. It's unclear whether that future will include its current owners, northeast Indiana-natives Richard Bruner and Ryan Yerrick.

"Our goal is to keep the Gems where they are. That's the bottom line," said IHL commissioner Dennis Hextall, adding the team has lost an investor and experienced financial difficulties. "We've been working with Rich Bruner, helping him out for a week to two weeks. We'd like to see him pull it off. But if he can't, it's not his decision to fold the team. It's ours."

The first-year Gems are 7-7-3 and averaging 1,497 fans per game, sixth best in the seven-team league.

Bruner, who couldn't be reached for comment, told the Dayton Daily News on Thursday that he would fold the Gems to preemptively strike a takeover by the IHL. He was irked at a letter of concern from the IHL. On Friday, Bruner backed off his threat but conceded to the Dayton Daily News that his removal remained a possibility.

"There are no problems with the team. Payrolls are being met. Obligations are being met," said Komets president Michael Franke, chairman of the Board of Governors. "In the end, this was a non-event, non-story, and he just freaked out. I know he had spent a couple of days in the hospital last week and probably had some medication in his body still and probably overreacted to the letter, which was standard with certain circumstances. … The IHL fully plans on having the team in Dayton for years to come."

Bruner and Yerrick are the former owners of the Buddy's Pizza Buffets, which closed when they left for Dayton last summer, leaving a flurry of lawsuits in their wake.

In the end, this is what you get for having completely inexperienced owners taking over in a market that may not want hockey any more.

The Gems appear to be having some financial problems. And a lot of it seems linked to a lost investor. That's interesting, since Bruner and Yerrick insisted last summer that they had plenty of money to pull this thing off. Two months into the season, they're having struggles?

The threat of folding the team seems to be a big overreaction on Bruner's part. From what I've been told, the letter he received is no different than letters other cities have received through the years. What message does it send your fans when this stuff gets out?

The IHL is committed to having a team in Dayton, I know that. They don't seem overly enthused with Bruner going public with any of this, though. And it was unwise for him to do so.

But the IHL deserves some blame. Raise your hand if you thought Bruner and Yerrick were going to be a success. I didn't think so.

It doesn't mean this all won't work out, but it doesn't look great right now.

Justin A. Cohn, pro sports coordinator for The Journal Gazette, has been covering the Fort Wayne Komets since 1997. His reporting includes game stories from home and away, features about the players and personalities associated with the Komets, plus coverage of issues affecting hockey at all levels. A native of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Cohn graduated from Emory University in Atlanta. He can be reached at 260-461-8429 or by email at jcohn@jg.net.

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