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Ice Chips

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Komets disappointed, angry

Here's what Komets president Michael Franke, the head of the IHL's Board of Governors, had to say about the folding of the Flint Generals, who were unable to attain a lease agreement with Perani Arena: "This is a bad deal. The bottom line is we did everything we could to keep professional hockey in Flint, and we were stonewalled by this (arena management) group. I don't understand it. In all my years of dealing with buildings, I've never seen its like. ...

"The people I feel worst for are the fans in Flint. As far as we were concerned, things were very positive moving forward for the future of professional hockey in Flint. With Frank and Larry Kinney moving there (as owners from Port Huron), it would have been an incredible success story."

Franke said the IHL had fears that Perani was destined to go to juniors as far back as the Generals' first playoff game, when the new junior team held a press conference in the building the day of the game, which was deemed by many to be a classless move.

Franke said the Kinneys, who folded the Icehawks today, had already sold double the amount of sponsorships that the Generals had last season. They were also on the cusp of announcing a drive to sell tickets to Flint games in nearby Port Huron.

However, Franke said the IHL can move forward into the union with the CHL, even if there are only four teams doing so.

"It has no material effect on the alliance," he said, noting confidence that Evansville will join the IHL soon.

Franke conceded it's disappointing that the Komets' historic rivals from cities like Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Port Huron and Flint are now in other leagues or folded, but he pointed out that the economy in Michigan is a huge factor in it.

As he noted, only Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids still have teams in professional minor-league hockey.

"The strong will stay and the weak will go in the coming years," he said. "But I'm very disappointed today, somewhat angry. We did everything humanly possible as a league to make it work (in Flint). The Kinneys would have turned around pro hockey there for years to come, I'm sure of it."

Both Franke and IHL commissioner Dennis Hextall mentioned to me the possibility for expansion into several cities in the next few years, but they wouldn't divulge names.

I know I will continue to monitor some cities I've mentioned before: Indianapolis, Des Moines, Youngstown and Saginaw, and I bet they are waiting for Rockford to drop back down to the AA level, too, if things don't work out in the American Hockey League.

In the meantime, the Komets had better hope they create a bitter rivalry with Dayton, the only team within three hours of Fort Wayne.

As for why the IHL remains wedded to maintaining its independence within the CHL, there are some things to note: The partnership between the two leagues will be on a trial basis, so the IHL wants to maintain its infrastructure; there are contracts the IHL has with vendors and staff that aren't easily erased; the IHL believes it will be adding teams to its Midwest footprint soon.

Note: I will be on vacation for about 10 days, but please keep the discussion going here and columnist Ben Smith to update you on news as it becomes available.

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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