Once more the Komets, winners of a third straight Turner Cup playoff championship, emerged from the locker room with their jerseys on Tuesday night.
They were doing so for the annual end-of-season party and jersey auction, which raised $25,675 for undisclosed charities.
Fans asked the players for autographs, about their favorite moments of the season and whether they had insight into the future of the IHL. Like the fans, the players are in the dark about the Turner Cup in 2011.
Were definitely very interested in whats going on, goaltender Nick Boucher said. Guys livelihoods and their families, the (prospect) of having to uproot families, everyones very cautious and concerned with the next season and what will happen in the next summer.
The IHL was re-established in 2007 as a Midwest-based league aimed to remain cost conscious as the economy was wreaking havoc on minor-league sports. While the Komets attendance has risen each year (7,711 average in 2008, 7,810 in 2009, 7,825 in 2010), and Fort Wayne won every title, the IHL has faced tumultuous circumstances in several cities.
Bloomington and Dayton have had changes in ownership. Kalamazoo left for the ECHL in 2009. Muskegon is leaving for the junior-level United States Hockey League this summer. Only six teams remain and if financially strapped Flint cannot find new ownership, willing to share a building with an incoming junior team in the North American Hockey League, it seems the IHL will again fold.
Komets management has promised a team will skate next season, but it doesnt know in which league, and it could be the IHL, ECHL, Central Hockey League or higher-level American Hockey League. Team president Michael Franke has told the players they should know this month whether the IHL will survive.
Some of the Komets older players, including Guy Dupuis, Kevin Bertram and David Hukalo, are considering retirement. If the Komets move to the ECHL or CHL, which have rules geared toward younger rosters, players such as Colin Chaulk, P.C. Drouin or Leo Thomas could wind up jobless despite the Komets desire to maintain their nucleus. Because some players work local off-ice jobs, the prospect of moving leagues is distressing.
Fans have got to remember that for a lot of these guys, its how they put food on their tables for their kids, playoff MVP Matt Syroczynski said. If something comes up where there isnt a league or theyre moving leagues and no one knows about it, it will hurt peoples families. The quicker they figure things out, the better it will be for the players.
But Tuesday night was more about reflection than speculation, and much money was made. Dupuis jersey sold for the most, $1,500, while Drouins sold for $1,450.
Every year brings uncertainty whether players will be invited back; this year, more than most.
I will pay close attention to what happens because its my job and my career, defenseman Danko Mironovic said. But its out of my control, so I cant get too worked up or too upset, no matter what decision is made.