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Time, money behind cut in IHL schedule

Assuming the Komets are still in the IHL next season, and that’s not a certainty, they will skate only 70 regular-season games.

That would be their fewest since 1961-62, when they played only 68 in the first incarnation of the IHL.

For the Komets, who lead the league in attendance with 7,891 fans per game, second in all of minor-league hockey to only the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears (9,399), trimming three home games could cost the team money.

“It could cost us money because we draw so well,” Komets president Michael Franke said. “But we have to take everyone else into account. We are an anomaly in the industry.”

The rest of the IHL teams have suffered financially recently, part of the reason a flagship franchise, Muskegon, which is third in the league with 2,857 fans per game, is dropping to the junior ranks after this season.

The IHL is skating a 76-game schedule this season with seven member teams. By trimming two weeks of salaries, eliminating three road games per team and paring down the weekday games, when crowds are smaller, the IHL hopes it can save some money next season.

The IHL also wants the season completed in a more timely fashion, something it claims the fans have voiced an opinion on, perhaps because they keep seeing the same opponents over and over again. Next season, both Christmas and New Year’s take place on Saturdays and that was going to hit the owners in their pocketbooks, too.

“We believe reducing the schedule to 70 games allows us to complete the regular season and playoffs in a timely manner,” commissioner Dennis Hextall said. “After talking with fans, we believe it is in our best interest to achieve this goal to help improve our product.”

The IHL hopes to award the Turner Cup next season in April 2011.

“We think that’s important,” said Franke, head of the Board of Governors. “A lot of buildings don’t have dates available in May and that comes into play.”

The new IHL, formerly known as the United and Colonial Hockey League, hasn’t played such a small schedule since 1993-94. But the IHL’s AA-level competitors have had more manageable schedules for years – the Central Hockey League skates 64 games and the ECHL goes 72 – and those circuits have much larger membership.

The IHL hopes to have six or seven teams next season, though the Komets continue to evaluate their options, promising only that they will play somewhere. The salary cap this season is $13,000 a week, so teams could save $26,000 or so, plus housing, travel costs and equipment, at the expense of three home games’ worth of profits apiece.

“The 76 games (we play now) seem a little bit long, but I’m used to it now,” Komets center Leo Thomas said. “It’s not too bad. It’s only six games. It’s really not that much. And it’s two more weeks pay, so losing that will kind of suck. But (shortening it) will probably be good for the league.”

Notes: Fort Wayne’s Nick Boucher was selected as IHL Goaltender of the Week after he went 2-0-0 with a .961 save percentage, a 1.50 goals-against average and a shutout. … Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock took Rookie of the Week honors with three goals and an assist as the Komets won 3 of 4 games and clinched a playoff berth.