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COLUMN

Sims retires as Fort Wayne's best-ever pro coach

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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.

Komets' boss won five titles in 10 years

Wednesday, May 15, 2013 - 1:18 am

It could be argued Al Sims is the best, most successful professional coach in not only Komets history but Fort Wayne history.

While always wearing several job titles, Ken Ullyot kept the International Hockey League alive off the ice in the 1960s and 1970s while winning two titles as coach and one as general manager. Charley Eckman coached the Pistons to a pair of NBA finals in the mid-1950s. Bernie Kampschmidt played and coached the fast-pitch softball Pistons to three world titles in the 1940s.

But Sims won more titles and accomplished great things in two distinctly different eras for the Komets. He won in the AAA class of minor league hockey when the Komets were the little team among the big boys of the first IHL, and then he dominated when the Komets were the big boys among the Class AA level with the second IHL and the Central Hockey League.

The team announced Monday that Sims is retiring, meaning it's time for perspective. There's an awful lot to consider.

Sims has won five championships and made the playoffs nine times in the 10 years he coached the team, but he's meant even more than that to the Komets. He's the man who helped rescue hockey in Fort Wayne when the Franke brothers purchased the franchise in 1990.

He's the coach who fathered the Komets' rebirth when they upset defending champion Indianapolis in the 1991 playoffs and eventually reached the Turner Cup Finals. He helped the Komets regain legitimacy in the minor league hockey world by winning the 1993 Turner Cup. Without those two events, almost everything that happened over the next 20 years is much more unlikely and maybe impossible.

The Komets took the momentum from those first three seasons and continued to compete against teams from larger cities with much bigger budgets even after Sims left for the NHL. Fort Wayne became a minor league cornerstone and a place almost every player wanted to come.

Even the dry statistical retelling of Sims' accomplishments reads almost like a fantasy.

Sims, who turned 60 on April 18, won five playoff championships and 503 games, including playoffs, in 10 years with the Komets. During his first tour with Fort Wayne from 1988 to 1993, he reached the finals in 1991 and led the team to the miracle 12-0 sweep of the Turner Cup playoffs in 1993.

After leaving the Komets to coach in the NHL for four seasons, Sims bounced around the minors before coming back to Fort Wayne in 2007 and led the team to three consecutive International Hockey League titles. Two times the Komets rallied from 3-1 deficits to win playoff series.

The Komets struggled during their first Central Hockey League season in 2010-11, but Sims led them to the Presidents' Cup the next season. After losing two games at home to trail Missouri 2-0 in the semifinals, the Komets rallied to win the series in seven games and crushed Wichita in the finals.

He also coached the team to its best seasons ever according to points, most home wins, most road wins, fewest losses and longest road and home winning streaks.

During his 10 seasons in Fort Wayne, Sims experienced only one losing season, the most recent one, when the Komets finished 33-35-4 in the ECHL. The team suffered its fifth losing home record.

Those are remarkable achievements, something Fort Wayne and likely all of minor league hockey will never see again. The game and its structure have changed so much that teams rarely win back-to-back titles anymore, let alone put together long winning runs. There's too much player turnover and league rules are set up to encourage parity.

With all that he accomplished, Sims' name should hang in the Memorial Coliseum rafters with the banners of other retired greats right this second. It's unlikely we'll see anything like his record ever again.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Blake Sebring at bsebring@news-sentinel.com .