His surname is infamous in local hockey circles, and Billy Welker understands why. After three tumultuous years of owning the Komets, his father, David, moved them from Fort Wayne to Albany, N.Y., in 1990.
After 38 years of continuous play, professional hockey in Fort Wayne was dead.
While it was resuscitated less than a month later by the Franke family, which bought the Flint Spirits franchise and the Komets name and logo, David Welkers eccentric ways and move to Albany, which ended when the Choppers folded by Christmas, are still talked about at Memorial Coliseum.
I was 21 or 22, so I didnt know what the hell was going on, Billy Welker said. Youre a young, cocky-ass kid thinking (excitedly), Were picking up and going. But when you look back, you know what really happened.
Billy, 42, has made a name for himself in hockey circles, winning five championships as an equipment manager, including three with the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs, who take on the Komets at the Coliseum tonight and Friday.
Itll be Billy Welkers first time at a Komets game since watching them win the IHLs Turner Cup in 1993. It would be impossible to count how many other times hes been in the building, considering former coach/general manager/owner Ken Ullyot is his grandfather, that Billy Welker was a stickboy for the Komets as a youngster and that he was the equipment manager when his father moved them to Albany.
One thing Ill say about my dad is hes a very, very nice man, Billy said of David Welker, who is in a nursing home in Bossier-Shreveport, La., and battling Alzheimers. I dont think people really understood how sick he was. He had issues even back then, and he made some bad mistakes. But I dont have any hard feelings against anybody. I think its great what the Frankes did (saving the Komets) and I love it. Its kind of the same way in any city; you will have people who hate or love you.
Billy Welker has been with the Mudbugs (34-24-3) since their inception in 1997 as part of the Western Professional Hockey League, which merged with the CHL in 2001.
At first, they used to cheer for offsides down here, Billy Welker said. And you know when the goalie hits his ice with the stick to let his team know a power play is over? The fans used to think he was cheering, so theyd all start cheering. Now, having it this long, theyre spoiled. Now theyre fans. Theyre critical. They do things like throwing crawfish on the ice when we score goals. Theyre plastic now, but there used to be some real ones.
Fort Wayne (27-25-6) has clinched a playoff spot with eight regular-season games remaining.
I think, most definitely, (these games are) going to be a lot of fun and bring back a lot of old memories of my childhood, Billy Welker said.