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Ben Smith

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Coming Saturday
•As the Komets prepare to embark on their 60th season Saturday, we take a look back at their past and ahead to the new season in our eight-page season preview. We’ll announce our all-time Komets team and break down this year’s squad as the franchise enters its second season in the CHL.
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A look at the Komets’ ‘Spaceman’ logo uniform.

City’s love affair with Komets going strong

So, you want to know how long ago 60 years are?

Sixty years ago, Bob Chase was 26 years old.

Sixty years ago, Al Sims was zero years old, and so was David Franke, and so was Michael Franke.

Sixty years ago, Korea wasn’t just a place they played for laughs on “M*A*S*H.” It had been only 44 years since the Cubs had won a World Series. And the Beatles were in grammar school.

That year, 1952, the British would introduce the first passenger jet. America would detonate the first hydrogen bomb, beating the Russians to the punch. And in November, we Liked Ike all the way to the White House.

Two weeks or so prior, something else happened: The hockey team you’re about to see unfurl its 60th season hit the ice for the first time, and Fort Wayne met its soulmate for life.

The Komets weren’t very good that first year – they finished 20-38-2 – but they were tough and they hit people and, well, the town liked that.

Down through the years it hasn’t always showed how much; life in the minor leagues virtually dictates there will be times when you sail perilously close to the wind financially, and sometimes too close. And so for a couple of weeks in the summer of 1990 – when David Welker moved the original Komets to Albany, N.Y. – the city was hockey-less.

It came back, of course. And part of why it came back is because, by that time, none of us could really envision the city without it.

So much had happened, so many vivid moments stuffed into all the nooks and crannies and odd corners of our institutional memory.

And if those moments weren’t exclusive to one era in particular, enough of them belonged to that era to prompt an unthinkable thought: If the Komets are done, what do we do with Eddie Long? Or Lenny and Choo-Choo and Stubby and Jumbo, for that matter?

“Lenny” as in Len Thornson. “Choo-Choo” as in Lionel Repka. “Stubby” as in Merv Dubchak. “Jumbo” as in John Goodwin. And Chuck Adamson and Gerry Randall and Norm Waslawski and Reg Primeau, besides.

If theirs wasn’t the golden era of hockey in this city – there have been others worth noting, present company included – it was at least the era that made the Komets a civic institution.

All those aforementioned names, they made the brand, winning two Turner Cup titles and nearly winning several more.

And then they stayed, a lot of them, to marry and raise their kids and weave that brand into the fabric of the community.

“No question,” Thornson says of all that. “When we started coming here in the late ’50s, most of us stayed here. We had a nucleus of six or eight guys here all the time. That brought a loyalty factor to it.”

Adds Chase: “They were a rare bunch.”

And they’ve contributed more than their due to the rarest of legacies: Sixty winters of hockey in a Midwestern city that didn’t start out as a hockey town.

Now, of course, it’s the quintessential hockey town, and, come Saturday night, it starts again. The championship banners and retired numbers, several of which bear the names of that rare bunch, will sway high above the ice. And down below, some of them will step into the spotlight and wave.

You might want to applaud, when they do that. You might just want to.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email 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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