Former komets relish championship brotherhood news, sports, jobs – news-sentinel electricity prices over time

## asked several members of the Komets’ three International Hockey League title teams from 2008 to 2010 what their relationships are like with former teammates today. “Relationships” doesn’t accurately encompass their feelings.

“Yeah, nothing compares to a team, those teams in particular,” former Komet Mitch Woods said after returning to Fort Wayne recently for the Championship Weekend Reunion. “I mean there wasn’t a single handshake when I went back, it was all hugs. I think that says a lot when grown men hug each other rather than give a handshake. I think if I gave one of my buddies a hug here (Prince Albert, Saskatoon) they would punch me or think that someone was dead.”

“Honestly, I haven’t found anything that comes close to the kind of bond you have with teammates you play with,” Leo Thomas said. “Obviously, close friends you grow up with from when you were young are close and considered family, but that bond and feeling is way different.”

And it’s not just with the players but also from the coaches and the rest of the team staff. When “the world’s oldest stick boy” Gary Ruch discovered he had 42 lesions throughout his brain in 2015, former player Brad MacMillan organized a fundraiser and almost every former Komet from that era contributed and reached out to Ruch. Most never hesitated, just like they wouldn’t have to help another former teammate.

And if they called, the wives would probably rip the phones out of their husbands’ hands and demand to talk to their counterpart. It’s often forgotten that the wives, who may have been girlfriends at the time, go through a similar experience as the players. The gals may have had a better time at the recent reunion than the guys.

Brandon Warner’s father Rick packed people into his mobile home for playoff road trips to Port Huron, Flint and Muskegon, including the parents and players’ significant others. The record number for a trip was 20 people, and they’d arrive hours before opening faceoff for cookouts.

The girls always rolled in better style than the players, MacMillan joked and may still owe Rick Warner some gas money. The families were a huge part of the bond, with parents always sitting together at playoff games, getting to know each other almost as much as their sons. They were just as invested.

“The great teams have that special bond, a really tight-knit group of guys you do almost everything with together!” Brandon Warner said. “Whether that’s at the rink, in the gym or out at night letting loose a little which all great teams need as well. It’s all about bonding and becoming a group that no one can separate, and that transfers to the ice.

“How many times did you see Macker, Woodsy, Legs (Olivier Legault), Schrocky (Kaleigh Schrock) stick up for a guy or drop the mitts for stuff that they weren’t even involved in? The reason was because those were one of their brothers and if you mess with them, you’re gonna have to answer the bell to one of those tough sons a guns! When you know that you have 25 of your best friends behind you backing you up, it lets you play with more confidence, and from being around each other 24/7 you could predict what the other guys were going to do before they even got to the puck in most situations. That’s the difference between good teams and GREAT teams! If anyone of these guys were ever to need anything, I would drop everything to be there for anyone of them. We were, and always will be inseparable family.”

“I didn’t mind sticking up for these guys because I knew they appreciated it,” MacMillan said. “Knowing that took any reservations I may have had out of the equation. Those two championships I was a part of were great because there were no cliques or groups in the room. Everyone could hang out, even the guys that were injured.

“As far as finding that bond outside of the hockey fraternity, good luck. I have yet to find it. People are selfish in nature, but hockey players are a different breed. Thick and thin we stick together and typically the selfish ones find themselves on more than one team throughout the season. Guys like that could have great numbers but never win. They’re worried about the name on the back of the jersey rather than the logo on the front.”

Defenseman Jake Pence has a unique perspective on the relationship with former teammates. After winning cups with the Komets in 2008 and 2009, he played for Flint the next season and played against Fort Wayne in the 2010 Turner Cup Finals. Even during that series, Pence said, the bond was still active.

“Every single guy I played with on the Komets was incredible to me,” Pence said. “They never disrespected me, always said hi and even treated me like a teammate, which is weird to say. Even the coaching staff, all the way down to (Equipment Manager Mark Bradtmueller) Bones kept in touch and made me feel valued. Bob Chase and the Frankes even came down to the visitors’ locker room to say hi afterward. They made Fort Wayne seem like a home away from home for me. The best two years of hockey I’ve ever played were in Fort Wayne, and I think that bond was forged because of the sacrifice the whole team makes while chasing a championship.”

“Obviously, guys move on with their lives but anytime you reach out or see one of your former teammates in person you connect that with the best times you shared together,” Schrock said. “I was lucky to have played with these guys my rookie year and win with them all. I will say, I don’t remember as much from the losing teams I played on. The three best nights of my life were winning at Neumann (in college) and the two I won with the Komets.”