When the Fort Wayne Komets go into playoff mode each spring, sisters Janice Shepler and Kris Musser become so superstitious they are almost worse than the players. They wear the same clothes to every game including jerseys, never change hairstyles or purses, and their family members must follow suit (no pun intended). It's so bad that they even wear the same clothes at home while listening to road games on the radio.
"My son said, `Really, Mom?' " Musser said.
Oh, yes, maybe especially for the road games which is really where playoff championships are won.
"Yes, we are dumb, but the hockey gods are watching," Shepler said with a smile.
And the hockey gods have been pretty good to the Komets and the sisters who since 2001 have presented a massive poster at the top of sections 202, 204 and 206 for each playoff game. The posters have encouraged five championship teams, and when the Komets win titles, the sisters take the poster to the end-of-season fan party to be signed by the players.
They started smaller but the poster has now grown to more than 50 feet long and takes 10 minutes to attach to the Memorial Coliseum wall before each game. Some of the previous posters have displayed, "It's time to get loud!", "Gotta believe," "60 years of heart, pride & grit! That's Komet Hockey!", "Same tradition, same goal," "What happens in our jungle, stays in our jungle! 3-Peat!" and last year's "Every game, every shift, every teammate, all heart!"
This year's sign, revealed last Friday for Game 1 against Quad City, says, "65 years strong, commit to 60," from a recent quote from coach Gary Graham, and then "#Chase the Cup" as a tribute to long-time Komets broadcaster Bob Chase who passed away at Thanksgiving. The second part was decided months ago.
"Most of the time it's trying to inspire the guys and remind them that we're behind them cheering them on," Shepler said. "We have a good fanbase. We just try, I guess, to show the passion we have for the game and the Komets."
The signs have become as much of a Komets postseason tradition as Icy's pregame entrances. There's now a generation of Komets fans who have grown up with them. There was even one year when the Komets made a T-shirt from one of their signs, "Our jungle, our cup."
When his children were young, John Shepler took his daughters and son Mark to Komets games. and after he passed in 1992, attending games became something the family did to pull together and remember their dad. The siblings were part of the crazy Section 1 gang before the coliseum was renovated in 2002.
The signs started in 2001, with six or seven people painting in Shepler's small apartment, and now it's painted in Janice's garage. With input from Kris's husband Bobby, Janice's boyfriend Darrin Lotz, Mark and his fiance Jennifer Miller and everyone's children, the sisters usually start thinking of ideas in March. During the week before the first playoff game, Janice freehand draws the outline of the letters for the sign, and then the sisters take four or five hours to fill them in. They always use the same paper and the same black and orange paint.
"Sometimes we get them really long and then we have to figure out what words we can use in place of longer words," Shepler said.
This year, for the first time, there was a problem when Janice forgot to add an "S" to "years." The outlines had to be erased and the extra letter squeezed onto the paper. Luckily, they had started early enough to make the switch. There have been past signs which got painted the night before, and dried just in time for the trip to the game.
After each game, the poster must be removed. Though they usually attend all weekend road games within driving distance, the sisters have never taken the sign with them for fear of what opposing fans may do.
"There are probably 10, 15 things that are discussed before we change words and piece it all together," Shepler said. "It seems harder every year to come up with something good because people are paying attention to us now, but we're still having fun doing it so we'll keep going."
Of course — they wouldn't break a superstition.
For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at @blakesebring, at his blog tailingthekomets.com and on Facebook at Blake Sebring.