Success . . . the word that best describes the decadeof the 1960s for the Komets. On the ice and at the box office. Just once during the decade did the Komets' season end with the final game of the regular season. That was 1960-61. Then came nine straight years of post-season appearances. Included were the first Turner Cup years, 1962-63 and 1964-65. In addition the Komets reached the finals in 1963-64 and 1966-67, losing to Toledo both times in six games.
During the 10-year span the team won 338 games and lost 306. From 1962-63 through 1966-67 the Komets won 190 and lost 140, finishing first once and coming in second four straight years.
The decade also marked a change in the front-off ice structure. Ken Ullyot and Colin Lister, who had come to the Komets prior to the start of the 1958-59 season, Ullyot as general manager-coach and Lister as business manager, also became stockholders. They then joined the two principle owners, Harold Van Orman (one of the original owners) and Ramon Perry. In the late 1960s, Perry, Ullyot and Lister bought out Van Orman. Perry remained the largest single shareholder but Ullyot and Lister had a majority between them.
The decode also welcomed some new cities - Muskegon, Des Moines, Windsor and Chatham in Canada to give Port Huron, Dayton and Columbus the IHL true international flavor again.
The 60s also was marked by some defections. St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha were picked off by the Eastern Pro league (run by the National Hockey League) to form the Central League; also suspending operations were Milwaukee and Indianapolis. The demise of Milwaukee and Indianapolis made three players available to the Komets and they helped build the dynasty of the decade. When Milwaukee folded in November of 1960, the Komets picked up center Reggie Primeau in the player pool.
And when Indianapolis suspended operations following the 1961-62 season, another center- little Bobby Rivard - and goalie Chuck Adamson were picked up by the Komets. Primeau and Rivard joined veteran Lennie Thornson to give the Komets three outstanding centers and Adamson became the league's top goalie.
"I always felt you had to be strong down the center," said Ullyot. "And with Primeau and Rivard joining Thornson, we were strong down the middle." A late addition from the defunct St. Paul franchise was Merv (Stubby) Dubchak who teamed up with Rivard and Jumbo Johnny Goodwin to form the league's highest storing line in history in 1965-66 with 364 points. Rivard had 42 goals and 91 assists for 133 points; Dubchak 72 goals and 45 assists for 117 and Goodwin 37 goals and 79 assists for 114 points.
The decade also marked a time when IHL teams had fairly stable rosters from year to year. "We had a nucleus of from eight to ten players for a number of years," recalled Ullyot. "Players like Thornson, (Eddie) Long, Primeau, (Teddy) Wright, (Norm) Waslowski, Lionel (Repko), Roger (Maissoneuve) Dubchok and (Johnny) Goodwin. And if we let a player go, chances are he'd wind up with some other team in the league."
The string of success started during the 1962-63 season when the Komets won their second regular season championship and second Huber Trophy with a 35-30-5 record. The year before the team struggled to a 33-31-4 record and fifth place in the seven-team circuit.
The Komets were matched with arch rival Muskegon in the first round of the playoffs and lost the home ice advantage when the Zephyrs upset them in the first game. The Zephyrs also won the second game in Muskegon for a 2-0 advantage and it appeared this would be another year of disappointment for the team and its faithful. But the Komets broke through in the third game in Fort Wayne and then tied the series with an overtime victory in game four in Muskegon. Primeau scored the winning goal.
The Komets took a 3-2 lead with a convincing win the fifth game at the Coliseum to set the stage for one of the greatest comebacks in the team's history in game six back in Muskegon.
Early in the second period Muskegon had a 6-1 lead and a seventh and deciding game in Fort Wayne seemed certain. But the Komets started picking away and just before the second period ended Thornson skated through the Muskegon defense to cut the lead too pair of goals, 6-4.
Rivard made it a 6-5 hockey game early in the final period and Waslaski tied it late in the period. Maisonneuve then won it with his goal in Muskegon.
The Komets squared off against the Minneapolis Millers in the championship series and won the championship in six games. The key game was the third- played in St. Paul because the rink in Minneapolis was not available. The two teams had split the first two games in Fort Wayne to give the Millers home ice advantage. The Komets regained the edge by winning the third game2-1, due mostly too sensational game in goal by Adamson.
The Komets also won the fourth game 6-3 and wrapped up their second playoff championship in the fifth game at the Coliseum 4-2. The Komets finished second in 1963 64 and advanced to the finals by defeating Windsor 4-2, winning the fourth game by forfeit. Windsor apparently had evened the series at 3-3 by winning the sixth game in Windsor. The seventh game was scheduled at the Coliseum and a sellout crowd was assured. The game was never played. Windsor had used an ineligible player in the sixth game and the Komets were awarded the victory by forfeit, giving them the series.
The Komets met Toledo in the finals and lost in six games despite splitting the first two games in Toledo. Toledo turned the series around with a 6-2 win in the third game at the Coliseum. The Komets tied the series with a 7-0 shutout in the fourth game but Toledo won the next two- played in Toledo-and the series.
Ullyot gave up the coaching reins to long in 1964-65 and after a second-place finish in Port Huron, the Komets won their second Turner Cup. The Komets bounced Toledo in four straight in the semi-finals while Des Moines upset Port Huron in the other semi- final. The Komets went on to defeat Des Moines in the champion-ship series in six games, winning three games in Fort Wayne and one of three in Des Moines.
The Komets finished second to Muskegon in 1965-66 and to the Dayton Gems in 1966-67. The Gems upset the Komets in the first round of the playoffs in 1966 and Toledo beat the Komets in a six- game championship series in 1967. Thornson set a club record with 139 points. The team's fortunes started to slip in 1967-68 with a fourth-place finish. Dayton again eliminated the K's in the playoffs. Things got worse in 1968-69 with a sixth-place finish. The team qualified for the playoffs during a six-team round-robin series but ran into Dayton again in the semi-finals and lost 4-2.
The IHL was eight-team, two division league in 1969-70 and the Komets finished third in the North, 40 points behind Muskegon. Second-place Port Huron swept the Komets in three games in the opening round of the playoffs.
The decade also saw the careers end for long-time favorites Wright, Thornson, long, Primeau, Waslawski, Maisonneuve, Goodwin, Adamson, Repka and Dubchak.
From the Players:
Len Thornson: "We really had an unbelievable team, but we ended up losing to St. Paul. We out- shot them 2-1 but just couldn't put the puck in the net. We had no business losing that one overtime game, Lenny (Ronson) went in and his shot hit the post in overtime and then it came right back to me and I shot it and hit the other post. We had 2-3 really good lines and super defense. It just didn't seem to work out that year."
Lionel Repka on the five-overtime loss to St. Paul: "It was so hot and humid, and we were playing with only three defensemen at the time because somebody got hurt. The thing I remember most about that game was it was 11 :30 or 12 and all of a sudden people start coming in. Here it was the second trick people from Harvester. They were listening to Bob on the radio and all of a sudden we were filled up again with fans."
Ken Ullyot: "The year we lost to St. Paul was because of Reno Zanier. The reason we lost wasn't because he was a bad goal tender, but because he had bad eyes and didn't know it and neither did we. They scored two goals from center ice. When he found that out, he decided to leave and go to work in the mines."
Lionel Repka on the game-winning goal: "I remember that puck going up in the air. It hit somebody's stick and went up over us and hit Reno on the back. I was maybe 15-20 feet from the net. It was one of the flukiest goals ever."
Reggie Primeau: "When I got here they heard I was part Indian and some of the fans were looking for a real Indian. That's how I got the nickname 'Chief.' The organist would play that war chant when I'd come on the ice. We had a lot of fun with that."
Norm Waslawski on the Toledo rivalry: "It was pretty intense. They used to throw the
beer at the guys and harass you when you went to the dressing room. They were pretty obnoxious. (Ted) Garvin was coaching at that time and he was pretty wild himself. He'd be getting after the referees and the opposing players to get everybody in the stands riled up."
Reggie Primeau on the 1963 Muskegon comeback: "It was like 6-1 late in the second period, but we got a goal. We came into the locker room and just said we had nothing to lose. We just kept nibbling away at it.That was a lot of fun."
Chuck Adamson: "I remember Joe Kish shot the puck and I made the initial save and it slithered off to the side and almost into the net. Then Eddie came back and grabbed the puck and took off. I never saw him. They thought it was over."
Ken Ullyot: "When they came back that was the biggest thrill. We had some injuries, but we pulled through. We had a pretty high opinion of ourselves. We won a lot of tough games where we came from behind, even on the road. Reggie's line was playing so well they could stick-handle down the main street in Muskegon and the public couldn't have stopped them."
Len Thornson on Chuck Adamson: "Chuck never let any soft goals in. He was just always steady. He was good all the time. When the chips were down, he was there."
Len Thornson on losing the 1964 finals to Toledo: "We had an offsides that was called when (Merv) Dubchak scored a goal and there was no way it was offsides. Then we turned around and went back to their building and lost 2-1."
Reggie Primeau: "We played together, but we also took turns having partieson the weekends after games. We were real close, and we still are. We'd just sit around and have a good time."
Terry Pembroke: "I had been a discipline problem with the Rangers and they threatened to send me out. I really thought I Was going to Fort Worth and never really paid much attention. I was just happy to be getting out of New York. I stepped off the airplane (and) it's in the middle of a December blizzard. I remember thinking,' How in the Hell can it snow this much inTexas?'"
Ken Ullyot on 1965: "The joy of winning, but it always took me two or three days to accept what we did. You were worn out mentally and physically from those things. Then you did a little bit of celebration."
Terry Pembroke: "They had every ingredient to be a championship club except Purinton was doing all the fighting and all the heavy work. I came in to help with that and he just went nuts."
Chuck Adamson on playing the Montreal Canadians: "I had been to training camp and been in their system for four years. I knew a lot of those guys. I stood on my head for three periods and Montreal was very impressed, and I thought 'If you were that impressed, why don't you take me with you?. They out-shot us 60-14 or something like that."
Lionel Repka: "They were just a stride or two faster, but there were a few guys on our team that I know were National League material, but there were only six teams. We didn't have any free agents so you were stuck where you were with no chance of moving up."
John Goodwin on the Dubchak-Goodwin-Primeau line of 1965-66: "If we didn't go out and score a goal on every shift we were disappointed. We had played together for a couple of years and you didn't even have to look because you knew where the other person was."
Reggie Primeau on the end of the Komets' era in 1969: "Our nucleus was getting older, including myself. We brought in a lot of young guys and it took some time for them to get used to the caliber of the IHL. I don't think all of them were of caliber, either. We didn't have the horses. We were competitive, but we didn't have the guys throughout the lineup."
Ken Ullyot: "Some of them I think they retired too soon, but what could you say to them. You couldn't offer them two-year contracts or anything like that."
Norm Waslawski: "I had retired in 1968, but Marc Boileau asked me to come back in 1972 and I almost did. I had been out of hockey for a couple of years and didn't know if I should have taken a chance or not. Now I know I would have won another Turner Cup."