The Kelly Cup has been bent out of shape – a sign of the hard partying it's been a part of since the Komets captured it Friday at Memorial Coliseum – and it's bound to endure more.
Thursday's stop on the Kelly Cup tour was at Citizens Square, where Mayor Tom Henry honored the Komets for capturing the 10th championship in their 69-season history. Henry declared it “Fort Wayne Komets Day” with a proclamation.
“It's really interesting what you can witness when you have a group of men walk on the ice unbridled. And look what happened. You can really see the professionalism that they exhibited and that (Cup-clinching) game was truly something to behold,” Henry said.
“For you citizens who have never been to a hockey game, you should begin to really experience what hockey is all about, and the talent and work ethic that goes on behind the scenes to make the type of team that we witnessed winning the championship.”
The Komets won the final series 3-1 over the South Carolina Stingrays, capped by a 2-1 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 10,477 at the Coliseum.
“I didn't think I'd ever be up here, especially for a championship moment like this,” said forward Jackson Leef, a native of Fort Wayne. “I watched the Komets as a kid and my whole life. It's just pretty amazing, very special, especially with the year we had with all the (safety) protocols. To end it like this, especially with full (fan) capacity for the final game, it's very special.”
Players such as Shawn Szydlowski, A.J. Jenks, Dylan Ferguson and Playoff MVP Stephen Harper have enjoyed much of the spotlight over the past week. But general manager David Franke took time Thursday to explain just how grueling this season was, especially in keeping the players protected from COVID-19.
He thanked athletic trainer Matt Willett, equipment manager Skyler Garver and assistant equipment manager Brendan Fitzgerald for all they did, which included using 770 COVID-19 tests – all of which came back negative.
Franke noted the players had to follow strict protocols, such as only going to pre-approved restaurants and staying in a semi-bubble through their 50-game regular season and 13-game postseason.
“With all the hard work that was done – at all the different levels within our organization – I think we pulled it off. It's unbelievable,” Franke said. “It's still unbelievable that in a COVID year we were able to do this. It's very, very exciting, and winning never gets old.”
The sacrifices made in the players' personal and social lives were rewarded with a championship, Fort Wayne's first since joining the ECHL in 2012.
“Especially being in my hometown, I knew all the spots to go to. I worked at the (SportONE/Parkview Icehouse) and gave a lot of lessons, and I needed to put that all to a halt when the season started and the protocols kicked in, so that was kind of weird,” Leef said. “Going through that, it was a hard year, especially with the battle with all the protocols. The staff, they kept us honest, and the players were really good about staying in.”
It's unlikely the Komets will be able to retain many players from this group. Some will return to the 12 ECHL teams that opted out of the season, others will cash in on big paydays in free agency, others will retire.
For now, the Komets are just enjoying the spotlight and having won a Cup in the strangest of seasons.
“We've been all around town with the trophy and interacted with all the different fans who have supported the team,” forward Anthony Petruzzelli said.
“It's really starting to sink in that we've done it. Everybody's appreciating what we've done and what we've gone through in order to make this happen, and where this team ended up. So it's been an awesome couple of days.”