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By any name, Komets in far better league

– Do not call this a merger, first of all. Call it a merger, and Michael Franke or IHL commissioner Dennis Hextall or maybe Ogie Oglethorpe will go upside your head with a two-hander.

So what it is, then, that the Central Hockey League and International Hockey League announced Tuesday?

An agreement. An affiliation. An accommodation, for fans of “The Godfather.” A Not A Merger.

You can take your pick, because I’ve studied the 11 paragraphs in the joint news release like a Druid studying runes, and nothing like a divine revelation has sprung forth. On the one hand, the fact that whatever this is will play under the Central Hockey League brand in 2010-11 suggests the CHL is absorbing the tattered remains of the IHL, or at least some of the remains. On the other, the “identity of the IHL” will be preserved through “various aspects” whose announcement is forthcoming.

What does that mean?

Beats me. I’m still studying the runes.

What they tell me is that whatever this is or will be, it had to happen. The IHL was down to either six teams or five or four, depending on how the selling job was going in Flint on a particular day, or what Quad City’s daffy owner was saying on another particular day. Clearly it wasn’t going to keep tottering along forever, even with one of the two or three best franchises in minor-league sports as its anchor tenant.

So the CHL gets the Fort Wayne Komets and maybe three others (Port Huron, which stands to be the most isolated geographically in all this, is still on the fence). And clearly, as far as the CHL is concerned, the Komets are the prize. If nothing else, simply getting the Komets in the tent puts the combined CHL-IHL – call it, for the time being, the CHiL – on much firmer ground in relation to the other AA-level league, the East Coast Hockey League.

And as far as the IHL is concerned?

Well, suddenly they’ve gone from four or five or six teams to as many as 19 or 20, which means you can forget all the yearly jitters about whether this franchise or that is going to disappear. That’s a good thing. This whole business is a good thing.

If it’s only the merest outline now, the outline alone is reassuring, and it will be intriguing to see how it gets filled in.

So many details remain: Divisional alignments, schedules, how the labor agreement will affect matters, even which trophy (the IHL’s Turner Cup, the CHL’s Ray Miron Presidents’ Cup, or some other Cup) the league champs will hoist at the end.

My inner cynic, for instance, suggests arranging the CHiL into a Southern Division, a Central Division, and the Help We’re Drowning Division, featuring the former IHL teams.

My inner optimist, on the other hand, sees Komets fans getting more than just all-you-can-eat Dayton next season, but an occasional serving of, say, the Amarillo Gorillas.

I can see the Turner Cup being paraded around at the end, which would maintain the IHL’s identity. But I can see an entirely new Cup, too, festooned with garish sponsor logos, the way NASCAR and the BCS and all the big-time outfits do it these days.

Ladies and gentlemen … I give you the Home Depot Goody’s Headache Powders GoDaddy.Com Cup.

Now that sings.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by e-mail at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648 or at the “Ben Smith” topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net.

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