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Chase award: How did this happen?

Long process finally produces ultimate result

Wednesday, September 12, 2012 - 5:36 am

This story of Bob Chase being recognized by the National Hockey League and USA Hockey starts about 13 years ago when Komets statistician Don Detter came up with the idea of nominating Chase and longtime Komets owner, general manager and coach Ken Ullyot for the United States Hockey Hall of Fame. Detter's goal was to get them in, and then the playing greats of the Komets and the old International Hockey League could be nominated.

With help from Ron Swart of ACME Printing Co., nominations were submitted under the premise no two men had meant more to the development of minor league professional hockey in the United States. There were dozens of letters from hockey executives, former coaches, former commissioners and great players extolling the two men and what they had meant to numerous cities and countless fans.

For 12 years the only thing heard back from the nominating committee was that Ullyot is ineligible because he retains his Canadian citizenship. Sometimes former Komets like Eddie Long, Norm Waslawski or Len Thornson would hear something here or there from someone who knew someone affiliated with the Hall of Fame. Los Angeles Kings scout Rob Laird and former Komets such as Dave Norris also took part in keeping Chase's nomination alive.

Finally, this week, the outcome is something better than anyone's wildest dreams as Chase has been named winner of the Lester Patrick Award, which is selected by the National Hockey League and USA Hockey for lifetime achievement in service to the sport in this country. Chase will receive the award Oct. 15 in Dallas.

Previous winners include Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, Phil Esposito, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, most other great players, every great coach, each gold medal-winning Olympic team, all NHL commissioners and the elite of NHL media, including Chase protege Mike Emrick. It's basically a Who's Who of Hockey Hall of Fame members.

And now the list includes Bob Chase, who before this was none of those things to anyone but us. Or rather, Robert Donald Wallenstein, 86, who has made his home in Fort Wayne since he moved here July 1, 1953. That's when he chose the radio name of Chase because it was wife Murph's maiden name and her father, Albert Thurston Chase, had been blessed with five girls and no sons. In fact, Bob wants his name on the trophy to read Bob Wallenstein/Chase.

``The world would not ignore Bob Chase,'' Emrick said. ``It's something that needed to happen, and I'm glad it's happening at a time when he can enjoy it. The important thing is the committee saw the gravity of this and decided it was important to get this done. I'm thrilled for him, and it could have come from 50 different directions. This was a campaign of many people.''