BLAKE SEBRING: Who are the most-hated opponents who became Komets?
A story popped up on the web two weeks ago about Calgary Flames assistant Paul Jerrard being the only black coach behind a National Hockey League bench.
He’s also a former Komet and one of the most-hated opponents in Fort Wayne history. It wasn’t that Jerrard was a dirty player, he was just very hard to play against because he played a hard, sometimes vicious game. Forwards hated to go into the corners with him or battle for the puck behind the net with him on their tail. Most described him as a hard-nosed son of a gun, and they didn’t say “gun.”
After a six-year career in Kalamazoo, Jerrard came to the Komets for 19 games at the end of the 1995-96 season. He retired after the next season to start his coaching career.
“Nobody has ever liked playing against Pauly,” Komets right wing Mitch Messier said in 1996. “There wasn’t a fan in this place who hasn’t screamed at him. He’s a nasty, nasty player, but he’s an excellent person to have on your team.”
Messier would be another player who earned a spot on the all-time team of players fans hated as opponents and were a little skeptical of when they later became Komets. For years, Messier tortured the Komets as a forward with Kalamazoo.
Hockey used to be filled with players who took pride in being pests and rats, always irritating opponents to get them off their game by drawing their attention. It was considered an honorable part of the game. Then some of them became Komets, and fans had a hard time accepting them. Imagine Cody Sol playing against the Komets in the future, or if Kaleigh Schrock had signed with Kalamazoo or Indianapolis.
Ironically, players usually have a completely different view of these players than fans. As Messier said, players usually love having these guys as teammates, partly because they don’t have to deal with going against them anymore.
Some of the most-effective of these players over the last 25 years who became Komets include Leo Thomas, Tracy Egeland, Scott Gruhl, Chad Grills, Kevin MacDonald, Ross Wilson and Bruce Ramsay.
On Jan. 20, 1992, the Komets were playing Indianapolis when Egeland was sent to the penalty box for unsportsmanlike conduct with 3:17 left in the second period. Then the Ice scored with 1:23 left to make it 5-1. At the time, Egeland was receiving his usual taunts from the fans, and he pointed to the scoreboard as a response. A few fans took exception and started tossing their souvenir ice scrapers on the ice. Eventually, the Komets rallied and won 7-6 in a shootout.
“When I first came here and stepped on the ice with a Fort Wayne jersey on, I was a little worried somebody was going to throw something from the rafters at me,” Egeland said in 1999. “Even the off-ice officials are telling me, `Maybe if you score some goals we won’t hate you so much.’ ”
There were season ticket holders who swore they would never come to another game after the Komets signed Gruhl in 1990. He had killed the Komets for years during the playoffs, and he was always as much a threat with using his stick for carving as he was for scoring. It was only after he became a major part of the 1993 Turner Cup team that some fans forgave him.
“The only friends I’ll have will be on the last team I played on,” he once said. Another time, after he earned 290 penalty minutes with the Komets, he said, “Well, I’ve always been able to defend myself.” Classic.
Other players who tried to reform their reputations in front of Fort Wayne fans include Teddy Wright, Ron Handy, Moe Bartoli, Cy Whiteside, Joe Nathe, Mark Toffolo, George Kotsopoulous, Ivan Belisle and Byron Lomow.
Admit it, some of you are getting upset just reading those names, aren’t you?
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of News-Sentinel.com. Email Blake Sebring at firstname.lastname@example.org.