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How Fort Wayne man helped save Toledo hockey

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For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blakesebring and at his blog www.tailingthekomets.com.

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Longtime Komets fan worked for rivals in 1960s

Friday, November 2, 2012 - 1:54 pm

As a youngster, Jerry Nuerge was a stick boy who sometimes practiced with the Komets. He later became a goal judge and started the hockey team at Ohio University. After graduating, Nuerge decided to try out for the Toledo Blades as a defenseman in 1967.

He was attending the University of Toledo at the time working on his master's degree in business. Unfortunately, he was injured in training camp and didn't make the club, but the team's business manager left soon after, so Nuerge was offered his job. That lasted a year when the owner essentially gave up on the team, leaving Nuerge to organize nine season-ticket holders into investors. Also a co-owner, he eventually added the general manager's title as a way to save money for the team. He was a whopping 26 years old.

``Somehow or other the Good Lord has gifted me with persistence and a love for the game, and I was able to share that with others,'' he said. ``Hockey has always been positive to me. It paid my ticket to college, helped me get started in business, and showed me I could be an entrepreneur.”

That also meant he was the boss of the Komets' chief rivals. It was a sometimes bitter and brutal rivalry, especially in Toledo.

``To me the rivalry was with the commissioner being in Toledo and things like that,” Nuerge said. ``It was, `We're the older team, so we're going to show the young team how this game is played,' except the young team kind of kept coming out on top for a couple of years.”

There was also the Toledo Sports Arena, where the fans were rough and the ice surface was small.

``I think there was a perception at the time that the tough guys for Fort Wayne would purposely come into town and make it tough in the small Toledo Sports Arena,” Nuerge said. ``That kind of 'man against man, I'll show you' type of thing.”

Because of the financial constraints, the Blades struggled during Nuerge's tenure. The investors sold the team and Nuerge left after three years as the general manager to return to Fort Wayne to work with Northwestern Mutual Life selling insurance, and now he is the owner and founder of Financial Independence Group.

``It was a fun ride, but the more I looked at who was running the NHL, I decided I didn't want to do this anymore,'' he said. ``There was a fellow from Cleveland who stepped up and bought it from us for $50,000, so everybody got their money back, which for minor league sports was pretty good. It prepared me for the business world as well as anything. I had to do the marketing, the program, the players and the coach. For four years I was really enjoying being involved in a sport, but then I had a practical side.''

But he kept hockey alive in Toledo — and preserved the rivalry.

Imagine how much it must have galled some old-time Toledo fans that a Fort Wayne boy was responsible for that.

``If I go to games now I'm a Komet, but I enjoyed it while I was there,'' Nuerge said.