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Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Komets Tab Lardner goes for the puck against Dayton’s Nathan Schwartzbauer during the first period of Sunday night’s game.

Komets in no hurry to leave CHL

A popular Internet rumor has the Komets and some of their brethren returning to a re-formed version of the International Hockey League next season.

Not true, said Komets president Michael Franke, who was head of the board of governors for the IHL.

Franke believes the Central Hockey League makes the most sense for Fort Wayne, which was absorbed by the CHL last summer along with former IHL franchises Dayton, Bloomington and Quad City.

“I think this is where we’re going to be in the immediate future,” Franke said. “A lot of what happens with us or anyone within the Central League or (other pro leagues) is going to be dependent upon who comes back each year, as far as franchises. But in the immediate future, we have no plans to make any changes.”

Some CHL cities are being courted by the junior-level North American Hockey League, which gained former IHL franchises Port Huron and Flint last summer. Flint’s attendance average dropped from 1,868 in the IHL to 893 in the NAHL, while Port Huron went from 1,627 to 674.

It was the loss of those teams, and Muskegon, that forced the IHL to join with the CHL under a two-year agreement.

“I think it’s been very positive,” said Franke, whose team won all three of the IHL’s championships and is 24-20-5 in the 18-team CHL. “We’re very, very happy with the majority of what’s taken place so far. When you look back on it and find really how smooth the transition has been over (this) time, I think we’re probably ahead of the curve and I think that’s very, very good, very, very positive.

“We’re in a situation in regard to the future where we have a two-year agreement with the Central Hockey League and I fully intend the northern teams will fulfill that two-year obligation and that gives us plenty of time to work on things for a more permanent structure.”

The IHL is a working entity within the CHL – Lori Bigwood remains vice president of hockey administration and Jennifer Costie is the director of business operations – though IHL commissioner Dennis Hextall’s role has been reduced. He supervises officials and looks for sponsors for the CHL. He has also been looking for expansion opportunities and thinks the CHL could get into Flint, which lost to the Komets in the 2010 IHL finals.

“We feel that if we could get back in (Perani Arena), I do know there are people who are interested in it,” Hextall said. “There’s a junior team in there that’s not drawing very well. We know they are losing money. And I think there has got to be some common ground somewhere to put the pro team back in there. There’s definitely some interest from investors.”

Clearly, the former IHL teams are continuing to evaluate matters.

“They’ll revisit it at the end of the (season). There are going to be pros and cons, depending on what city you are in,” Hextall said. “The only negative I’ve seen has been the travel. The crowds are up in (Dayton) and we’ve been better in sponsorship sales, so overall that part has been positive. But the cost of travel has been (substantial). … There are benefits and negatives, and they’ll make a decision. That’s not my decision.”

Franke said expansion in the Midwest will be crucial – Dayton is the only rival within five hours – as it will increase fan interest and cut down on travel costs. But he believes that must happen as part of the CHL.

“The aspect of us thinking the International Hockey League is going to come back in some form in the near future, no, I don’t think that’s going to happen. I don’t see that happening,” Franke said.