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Ben Smith

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Komets make history piece by hard piece

The top step is theirs now, as the confetti falls like Reynolds Wrap rain. Choo-Choo won’t mind stepping aside. Neither will Jumbo. Neither will Lenny or Eddie or Stubby, Merv Dubchak, with his nuclear slapper and Jane-stop-this-crazy-thing skating style.

The boys of the ’60s, Lionel Repka (Choo-Choo) and John Goodwin (Jumbo) and Lenny Thornson and Eddie Long, owned the podium once upon a time, with their two Turner Cups in three years and three regular-season titles. They own it no more.

It belongs now to this guy here, P.C. Drouin, who goes top shelf once, goes top shelf twice, scores his second game-winner of the Turner Cup Finals in the game that means more than any of them.

It belongs to this guy over here, Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock, hoisting the Turner Cup aloft in the city that raised him.

It belongs to Kevin Bertram, the veteran defenseman, whose voice maybe wavers a bit, even after three straight nights like this in May. Belongs to Nick Boucher, who won Game 7 in the nets again, and Tim Haun, who showed both nerve and heart in shaking off three weeks of rust to win the game that turned the series in Flint.

It belongs, surely, to Al Sims, who can retire the Best Coach In Franchise History trophy now, having been behind the bench for half of the Fort Wayne Komets’ eight titles. And it belongs to Colin Chaulk, who’s won four titles here himself now, and to Guy Dupuis, his dark hair flecked with gray, saying this three-peat the Komets sealed Saturday night with a 3-2 victory in Game 5 – in front of a stuffed and roaring Jungle – wasn’t so much history in full as history assembled one hard piece at a time.

“You kind of forget it’s three in a row,” he said, leaning close. “You forget that you won the year before and the year before that. Everybody’s gunning for the Cup, and it’s not easy, and you’ve got to weather a lot of storms along the way. The more difficult it is to win, the more fun it gets.”

And, listen, this is difficult. You can say this isn’t the greatest run of hockey in the 58 years of this decorated franchise, pointing to an IHL that – let’s be honest here – is the merest shadow of what it once was. But don’t say it too loudly. And don’t even try to say it within earshot of anyone hoisting the Cup and parading it around the Coliseum once more, presenting it to the orange faithful and their Komets flags and their forever-unfurled devotion.

“It’s not a cakewalk,” Drouin insisted. “We had to come back from a 3-1 deficit against Port Huron, and Flint played us hard. Except for last night the three other wins were by one goal.”

To be sure, this one wasn’t done until a Komet gets his stick on the puck at the blue line and flips a pop-up down the ice. The clock was inside five seconds by that time, and for the first time in 2 1/2 hours the teams stopped skating. Leo Thomas flung his arms high at center ice. Across the way, the Komets’ bench emptied, a litter of sticks and gloves spilled onto the ice and Boucher was swallowed up, suddenly, in a tsunami of joy.

Third time, and it’s the same charm as the first two. Third Turner Cup in succession for the first time since the Cincinnati Mohawks won five in a row between 1952 and 1957, back when we all liked Ike and Elvis was either the King or the devil, take your pick.

There’s a reason it hasn’t been done since.

“It’s just incredibly difficult to beat teams that are so hungry to beat you,” Sims said. “You’ve got a target on your back from Day One in training camp. Everybody wants to beat you.”

In the end, though, no one did.

And so make way, you boys of the ’60s, for P.C. and Guy and Colin and Bouch, Tim Haun and Brandon Warner and Matt Syroczynski, the 2010 Playoff MVP. This is their podium now. It’s their top step. It’s their Cup, passing from one set of hands to the next, coming to rest finally in the faceoff circle down there at one end of the ice.

Where, after a time, someone tries to pick it up and haul it off. And can’t, because it’s frozen to the ice.

Ah, well. Not like it’s going anywhere, anyway.

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