FORT WAYNE – Its time to dig those 1-0 Joe T-shirts out of the closet.
Joe Franke, the equipment manager who gained international attention for going into a game as a 42-year-old rookie goaltender with the Komets and leading them to victory in 2002, is back with Fort Wayne after a five-season hiatus.
Franke, a former equipment manager in the NHL with Pittsburgh, most recently worked with Bridgeport of the American Hockey League from 2008 to 2010.
Joe Franke is one of the top equipment managers in professional hockey. Joe is dependable, hard working and an expert at profiling and sharpening player skates, managing equipment, et cetera, said Komets general manager David Franke, who is of no relation.
The Komets also announced they re-signed center Leo Thomas, who has 78 goals and 139 points in 182 games over the last three seasons with the Komets. He helped them to IHL championships in 2009 and 2010.
Im happy to be back, and Im just looking forward to getting back to being the player I know I can be by just training harder this summer, Thomas, 29, said.
Thomas had 18 goals and 27 points in 50 games last season, but he wasnt protected from free agency.
I was free to go anywhere, but we kept in touch and talked and were able to come up with a deal, which Im happy about because I didnt want to go anywhere else, Thomas said. I just want to prove to everybody and this organization that I still can be a scorer and a leader on this team after not living up to my own expectations last year
Joe Frankes appearance against the Elmira Jackals is regarded as one of the most memorable games in the Komets 59-year history. It is also considered the event that turned a mediocre team into a near-unbeatable UHL champion in that 2002-03 season.
Joe Franke hadnt been in an organized game since high school. He was forced into action because Tom Lawson had been called up and Pokey Reddick left the game because of illness with 11:03 remaining.
What followed became talked about on Hockey Night in Canada, shown on ESPN and narrated on syndicated radio by Paul Harvey. Franke stopped 4 of 6 shots in regulation, assisted on a goal and turned away 3 of 4 attempts in a shootout, including a diving save against Aaron Phillips in a 4-3 victory.
It so inspired the Memorial Coliseum crowd of 6,497 that hundreds held vigil outside the locker room chanting Frankes name for more than an hour.
Franke was fired in 2006 after 23 years with the Komets.
To be honest, they called me out of the blue about this job recently and I had no idea it was coming, Joe Franke said. Heck, yeah, Im excited. This is my life, a big part of my life, and half of it was taken away from me (in 2006).
The Komets havent said if last seasons co-equipment managers, Mark Bradtmueller and Andy Desmonds, will be retained.
And though the Komets need a backup goaltender for Nick Boucher, dont expect Joe Franke to fill that void.
I dont even have the pads anymore, he said.