And now, for the 60th time: Say hello to your Fort Wayne Komets.
Michael Franke is at the front of the room, welcoming everyone to a milestone year.
Al Sims is introducing the players, reading their names and where they were a year ago.
One by one, they stand up, then sit back down. Some of the faces are familiar; some are not. Some played here or in various other Central Hockey League outposts, and some played farther afield: in England or Holland, Sweden or Norway.
I sit down between two of them. One played here. The other played in Alaska.
Turns out they kinda know each other.
So how’s it feel to be playing with this guy again? I ask the one to my left, Bryant Molle, who played for the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and Alaska in the ECHL last year.
It was something I got to do for three years in university hockey, and we got along pretty good, he answers. It’s kind of a special thing to be able to play with your brother.
That would be the guy to my right, Dustin Molle, two years older than Bryant and a veteran of 39 games in the orange-and-black. In those games, he scored one goal and five points and logged 42 penalty minutes. In the playoffs, he had two assists and 18 penalty minutes.
Two years ago, he and his brother, who grew up in Anchorage, were teammates at Alaska-Fairbanks. They weren’t often on the ice together; though both are defensemen like their father was (We kind of jumped on the same ship, Dustin says), both generally played the left side. Still, to be teammates – something they often weren’t, growing up, because of the age difference – was, yes, a special thing.
We push each other to be better out there, Bryant says.
And, more than occasionally, push other things. What put Dustin on Sims’ radar, after all, was his 6-foot-2, 225-pound frame and physical nature. What drew him to Bryant, an inch taller and 11 pounds lighter, was, yes, Dustin’s input, but also Bryant’s own physical nature.
I think physicality is the big thing those two add, Sims says.
What I’m thinking, sitting between the two of them, is this is literally what being between a rock and a hard place must feel like.
So who’s tougher? I ask, because, well, it’s the obvious question.
Neither seems amused by this.
I don’t know, Dustin says. I guess we’ll find out.
Then they add that in all their years on the ice, they only dropped the gloves with each other one time. And that was in college, not all that long ago.
Pretty good tilt, Bryant says. He got a black eye.
I had a black eye, he couldn’t open his jaw for a week, Dustin replies.
Bryant says it’s good to be here with his brother, because he knows the town and some of the players. He called him before he decided to come to Fort Wayne, and Dustin told him the town was great, the organization was solid, come on out.
And now here they are.
This is probably a first for me, Sims says. I don’t think I’ve coached two brothers before.
Hey, it’s year No. 60. Consider it one more milestone.