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Ice Chips

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K's like division changes

Komets fans enjoy going to road games and, of course, a good rivalry. Thanks to changes to the divisional and conference alignment, unveiled by the ECHL on Tuesday, Fort Wayne’s fans may get fewer opportunities to see both if they make the playoffs this season.

There was a serious geographical imbalance – all eight Western Conference teams made the playoffs last season, while eight of 13 did in the Eastern Conference – even before Las Vegas dropped out of the league this summer.

Now the Komets, Evansville IceMen, Kalamazoo Wings, expansion Indy Fuel and Colorado Eagles have been put together in the new Midwest Division of the Western Conference. There are no immediate plans to change the already released schedule, in which Fort Wayne doesn't play Colorado, though that could change if the Komets are able to swap out a trip to the south for one out west.

Even more unusual is that Toledo and Cincinnati, both within three hours of Fort Wayne, remain in the Eastern Conference. While the Komets will still play in those cities seven times in the regular season, the Walleye and Cyclones can’t be faced in the postseason until the Kelly Cup finals.

“I like it,” Komets president Michael Franke said. “I like being back with Colorado. We started to create a rivalry with them (in the CHL) … and we’re kind of excited about being able to take them on.

"From the travel standpoint, yes, we could travel to Colorado in the first round. But, you know, last season we could have ended up going to Florida. Not much different.”

The top four teams in each of the four divisions will make the 2015 postseason and the first two rounds will be spent within the division. Should the Komets make the Western Conference finals, they would face the champion from the Pacific Division – Alaska, Bakersfield, Idaho, Ontario, Stockton or Utah.

Last season, after making the ECHL playoffs for the first time, the Komets defeated Reading and then lost in six games to Cincinnati, where several hundred fans went to games.

“Everybody in our division, we could all have more travel,” general manager David Franke said. “That’s something we are aware of and have to do this year because of the fact that we have less teams out west.

“This is the way it had to be done this year.”

Michael Franke said he wasn’t concerned with losing Toledo and Cincinnati as division rivals, since the Komets still play them in the regular season and the possibility of meeting in the finals “would be exciting.”

He added that playoff series with teams out west would likely be 2-3-2, minimizing the expense, especially in the Western Conference finals.

The ECHL also announced it is following the NHL’s lead and implementing hybrid icing. After the puck is iced, the linesman blows the play dead only if the defensive player is ahead in the race to the end-zone faceoff dots; if the attacking player is leading the race, the linesman is supposed to allow the play to continue.

“It’s a long time coming,” Michael Franke said. “It will create a lot more competitiveness in the games and speed games up a little bit. It will put the onus on the defensemen and the forwards to work harder.”

The Komets have yet to sign any players for this season, but David Franke said he hopes to have some players re-signed in the coming days. He has also been discussing an affiliation with an NHL team – the Komets were independent last season – though those talks won’t intensify for a couple of weeks.

“It’s something we’re looking to try to do,” David Franke said. “It’s the way in the ECHL for the most part and we’ll just see how it goes. I doubt anything will happen this week.”

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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