I never thought I would miss the Rockford IceHogs.
The IceHogs left the United Hockey League at the end of the 2006-07 season, taking with them a hot rivalry with the Fort Wayne Komets. They provided the Komets a measuring stick but also the impetus to always push for improvement, particularly in the playoffs. Those games were rarely fun for the players, but they were usually a blast for the fans.
Most Komets' games haven't felt the same since, missing that bit of passion and intensity. The players still bring that energy to their work, and the fans sometimes get as fired up for games, but a true rivalry combines both. The Komets and IceHogs seemed to bring out that passion in each other every time they played because there was always the possibility something exciting would happen you didn't want to miss.
Because they always wanted to beat each other so badly, the players always seemed to push each other to another level of effort and performance. The best thing about professional sports is the rivalries. Players love them, fans love them and they are an easy sell for management.
So what goes into a rivalry?
• Competition: The closer the teams in terms of quality, the better.
• Proximity: It never hurts to have fans traveling to both teams' games.
• Characters: Somebody needs to stir the pot and focus the fans' ire, be it coaches or players.
• Tension: Either bragging rights or outrage over an incident between games.
• Familiarity: It's much more fun if fans recognize opposing players.
• Consistency: It doesn't work as well if one of the teams has an arch-rivalry with another team, too.
• Respect: Can both sides appreciate how good the other team is?
• Crossover: It adds to the intrigue if one or two key players switch sides.
• Playoffs: Real rivalries are nurtured when it's “Win or go home” and the bragging rights last a while.
• History: You can't have a rivalry that's been around less than five years, not a real one at least.
The Komets have had some spectacular rivalries over the years with Toledo, Indianapolis, and yes, Rockford. They always talked about having a rivalry with the Kalamazoo Wings, but that always felt like it was a made-up marketing gimmick just because the teams were close. Both teams never seemed to be good at the same time, either.
The Fort Wayne-Rockford games were not about brawls but about intense competition, and now the Komets seem to have recaptured a bit of that feeling this season with the Muskegon Lumberjacks. After meeting in the Turner Cup Finals last season, they have played two games so far this year, and both have had that passion.
The Komets-Lumberjacks series passes all the tests easily as the teams have played for 50 years this season, competing in more games against each other than they have with anyone else. Both teams need someone to call a rival, and management on both sides jumped on this opportunity.
Sometimes hockey rivalries include fighting but there at least needs to be a hint that something new could happen each time these teams play, that fans don't want to miss these games because they might miss something they've never seen before. This series has that feeling right now.