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Ben Smith

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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Komets coach Al Sims calls the ECHL “the last bastion in double-A hockey.” The Komets announced Thursday they will join the ECHL.

Cynics can sneer, but K’s move right

– So go on, then, as they all take their places in front of a backdrop of Komets logos and ECHL logos. Unleash your inner cynic.

Four leagues in six years? Wow, they oughta put wheels on this franchise.

Oh, good one.

Way to use the CHL as a bus stop for two years, guys. You came, you saw, you bailed.

Rave on, brother.

Took their Cup, too. Isn’t there a law somewhere against transporting hockey artifacts across league lines?

Ha-ha. Ha. Ha.

Want to know the truth of all this, as the Komets, yes, try on for size a fourth league in six years?

This isn’t about expedience. It’s about landscaping.

It’s about a double-A hockey terrain that has been remodeling itself for a good decade now, and it’s not finished yet. The shaking-out process can be traced from three double-A leagues and about 50 teams five years ago to two leagues and 34 or so teams now. And the smart money says the winnowing won’t stop until everything coalesces in one league.

“I think it’s going in that direction right now,” Komets president Michael Franke said Thursday.

Which is why the Komets cut a deal with the CHL two years ago that, in Franke’s words, was strictly “look-and-see.” It was the only viable play, frankly, in such a shifting dynamic as double-A hockey. And so: One more move. And they swear it’s the last.

“We’re not running away from the (CHL) because there was something wrong,” Franke says. “But this is a better fit and a long-term, permanent decision for the Fort Wayne Komets.”

And, sure, how permanent “permanent” is remains to be seen, considering everything. But even the sneering-est inner cynic knows this latest move makes all kinds of sense.

Again, landscaping is why. From a purely geographic standpoint, the Komets are moving from a league (the CHL) where they were going to find themselves on an island, to a league (the ECHL) where they’ll be within five hours’ drive of five teams. And there are certainly some familiar faces waiting for them out there: Toledo, Kalamazoo, Cincinnati, Elmira, Utah, Evansville.

This will be a younger league with fewer veterans and more kids you’ll actually see wearing NHL colors someday, and the dynamic will be much more developmental as a result. That will present a particular challenge to the Komets’ front office and head coach Al Sims, and especially so when you’re insisting on signing players independently, as the Komets will, in a league with more NHL affiliations than you’re used to.

Then again, … when you’ve won titles in four different leagues (Who does this? Anywhere?), you’re nothing if not adaptable. And the notion of winning titles in five different leagues surely appeals to a franchise that has the sense of its own history the Komets have.

“This is the last bastion in double-A hockey,” Sims said Thursday. “It’s just another challenge. It gets our adrenaline going, going into a new league and knowing there’s going to be different problems to solve. … I think if we can bring more people in like (this year), we’re going to have a great chance to win another Cup.”

Sneer if you must, inner cynic.

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.

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