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The Journal Gazette

  • Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Komets forward Phelix Martineau, right, and Cincinnati's Dominic Zombo could face off again in the latest installment of their rivalry that kicks off with Game 1 Saturday.

Friday, April 13, 2018 1:00 am

Komets are Cyclones' No. 1 target

Consider 1st-round playoff opponent staunchest rival

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette


Who: Komets vs. Cyclones

What: Central Division semifinals

Series: Best-of-7

Game 1: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Memorial Coliseum

Game 2: 6 p.m. Sunday, at Coliseum

Game 3: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, at Cincinnati

Game 4: 7:30 p.m. April 21, at Cincinnati

Game 5: 3 p.m. April 22, at Cincinnati*

Game 6: 7:30 p.m. April 24, at Coliseum*

Game 7: 7:30 p.m. April 25, at Coliseum*

*if necessary

There's Toledo and Kalamazoo. Indy, too. The Komets have several rivals because of geography and 66 seasons of play, but things are different for the Cincinnati Cyclones.

Justin Vaive and Brandon McNally have played fiery brands of hockey against the Komets, getting into multiple fracases this season. It's important to keep in mind that for the Cyclones, Fort Wayne is the rival.

“For us, this is our biggest rival,” said Everett Fitzhugh, the Cyclones' director of public relations and broadcasting, whose team opens the best-of-7 Central Division semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Coliseum. “Every time these two teams play each other, it takes everything out of us – and I would imagine this is for Fort Wayne too – emotionally, mentally, physically. It's always a battle and there are always fights that happen.”

Toledo might seem the logical rival for the Cyclones, but the teams averaged only seven meetings over the last five seasons. Indianapolis is a stone's throw from Cincinnati, but this is the first season in which the Fuel has been playoff good. Wheeling being in the Eastern Conference hasn't helped heat things up with Cincinnati.

Fort Wayne vs. Cincinnati, though, has something for fans of all ages.

The Komets played the Cincinnati Mohawks in the International Hockey League from 1952 to 1958 and the Cyclones in the IHL from 1991 until the Komets left that league in 1999. That included playoff series in 1956 (the K's lost) and 1994 (the K's won), and that was the season in which the rivalry went to another level.

“It's always been a fun rivalry and I've always enjoyed it, even back to the days of the old IHL, when they played in the (Cincinnati Gardens) and there was the big controversy,” Komets President Michael Franke said, referring to goaltender Pokey Reddick parlaying his undefeated run with Fort Wayne to the 1993 Turner Cup into a contract with the NHL's Florida Panthers, who sent him to their minor-league affiliate, the Cyclones, instead of Fort Wayne. “That was really a lot of fun.”

Since the Komets' 2012 admission into the ECHL, which has had the Cyclones as a member since 2001, the teams have met in the playoffs twice. Cincinnati won a second-round series 4-2 in 2014, after Fort Wayne upset the conference's top seed, Reading. And in 2016, the Komets dropped the first two games but captured the first-round series with a 2-0 victory in Game 7, in which Pat Nagle had a 33-save shutout.

In their two ECHL playoff series, there have been three games decided in the first overtime, three decided in the second, and both teams have won three overtime games.

While Fort Wayne has won 25 of the last 42 regular-season meetings, the Cyclones won five of nine this season.

Fort Wayne fans are known for traveling well to all the Midwestern venues, including U.S. Bank Arena where Games 3, 4 and 5 (if necessary) will be played, but Franke said Cyclones fans are always at the Coliseum, too.

Although the Komets won Sunday's regular-season finale there 6-3, the post-game fracas was a sign that Cincinnati, and its potent power play, wants to get under Fort Wayne's skin.

“You can't play out of control,” Komets coach Gary Graham said. “It's one thing to do these types of things in the regular season, but we all have to understand that we need to control our emotions and walk that line. You have to know when the right time to do things in the playoffs is – when it's time to send a message – and ... the last thing you want to do is give them easy power plays.”