Friday, October 8, 2010

Blue Jackets affiliate with CHL's Fort Wayne Komets

Announced early this afternoon, the Columbus Blue Jackets have signed an affiliation agreement with the Fort Wayne (IN) Komets of the newly-reconstituted Central Hockey League. (CBJ announcement; Komets announcement)  Under the agreement, which is only for 2010-11 and will be reevaluated by both sides at the end of the season, the Komets will be the sub-farm team for the Springfield Falcons of the AHL.  I would presume that it means that last season's affiliation with the Gwinett (GA) Gladiators of the ECHL is replaced by the Komets agreement but have not read anything to that extent.

From a practical point of view, this affiliation is not earth-shattering to the Blue Jackets.  The Komets are on record as suggesting that they will receive one forward and one defenseman from Springfield before the home opener in Fort Wayne on Saturday, October 16 (Tickets still available!).  Word is that Springfield currently has 11 defensemen in camp - so a Fort Wayne allows the CBJ to keep their longer-term prospects from getting buried on the Falcons' bench.

At the same time, I love the message that this affiliation sends.  I have plenty of personal background with the Komets and know the owners, the Frankes.  (See that Turner Cup in the photo?  I've got my picture with it. So, yeah, I'm just a tad excited by this move.)  Suffice to say that the Franke brothers are pro sports entrepreneurs par excellence, and they have constantly made the moves necessary to keep their franchise not just viable but strong over the boom and bust periods of the 20 years that they have owned the franchise.  The Frankes are very hands-on owners and only do what is best for their team, even going as far as to build their own minor league when the need arose.  They would not have jumped in with the Blue Jackets (not having any affiliation since 1998-99, when they were tied to the Florida Panthers) without significant due diligence - which signals to me that they think highly of the CBJ.  No small endorsement.

The 1952-53 Fort Wayne Komets
As for the Komets themselves, you are looking at one of the great minor league franchises in all of professional sport.  It has a history going back to the 1952-53 season with eight league championship banners in the rafters of the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, and they take their history very seriously - the Komets have 13 retired numbers!  For more background on the Komets, check out for some terrific detail.

The history of the franchise goes even deeper: Radio voice Bob Chase - the man who NHL on NBC play-by-play announcer "Doc" Emrick credits as teaching him how to call games - has been doing Komets announcing on WOWO for 56 years.  That's right, fifty plus six.

The 1968-69 Komets logo, the Spaceman.
(Hey, it was the 60's!  Man on the moon!)
I'd strongly suggest that anyone who is interested in minor league hockey make the trip to Fort Wayne and catch a game.  It's a cultural experience, albeit a tad less "old school" since the Coliseum was expanded to 13,000 seats (same capacity as the Malmo, Sweden arena that the CBJ played in this week) and the requisite luxury boxes were installed.  But the seats are cheap, the fans can be ridiculously hardcore and the hockey can be pretty good.

Additional Notes: 

  • Significant information for this post was unearthed from the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette's Justin Cohn, whose Ice Chips blog is must-read material for Komets fans and soon-to-be-fans.
  • Twitter's FrickinDannie offers a reasoned review of the move in a guest column at The Cannon.  I don't know enough about the new CHL to firmly rebut her claim that the CHL is somehow an inferior league, but it's worth knowing that Columbus is now the fourth NHL team to set up a CHL affiliation. Dallas is affiliated with the Allen (TX) Americans, Colorado with the Tulsa (OK) Oilers and the New York Islands with the Odessa (TX) Jackalopes.  So it's not like the CBJ is going out on a limb with their new farm team.

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