A Rivalry That Persisted Through Time Apart

Many teams can’t say that they had a rivalry last through multiple league changes and five years of not setting skate in each other’s arena, however, the Elmira Jackals and Fort Wayne Komets rivalry is still just as heated now in the ECHL as it was in the United Hockey League (UHL).

The Komets joined the UHL during the 1999-2000 season and went 362-186-58 during their eight season run. Fort Wayne made playoffs every season except for 2002. They made a championship run twice, winning the title the first run with a 4 to 1 game win over the Quad City Mallards in 2003 and losing to the Muskegon Fury 4 games to 1 in 2005.

The Jackals joined the UHL for the 2000-01 season and made playoffs their first year in the league. The next four seasons in the league the Jackals made playoffs and made it to the finals in the 2001-02 and 2003-04 but losing to the Muskegon Fury in both championships. The last three seasons in the UHL the Jackals didn’t qualify for playoffs but pulled out a 232-254-46 record during their seven season stint in the league.

The rivalry between the teams heated up during the 2002-03 season when the Komets moved from the Western conference to the Eastern, where the Jackals were competing. December 22, 2002 the Jackals saw an interesting loss as the Komets number one goalie Tom Lawson was called up to Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League and their backup Pokey Reddick who, according to reports, couldn't go on any longer because of muscle cramps and would need an IV. Fort Wayne had to put someone in goal; they put in their 42-year-old equipment manager Joe Franke with the game tied 1-1 and 11:03 remaining in the game. To the Jackals’ dismay even with the game ending 3-3 in regulation Franke stopped 3-of-4 shootout attempts for the Komets’ 4-3 win.

The tension continued to build into playoffs when the Jackals and Komets squared off in the second round. Fort Wayne beat the Port Huron Beacons in three straight games to advance to the second round while the Jackals won their series 3 games to 1 against the Adirondack IceHawks. Even after a hard fought win in the first round the Jackals were swept by the Komets in four straight games before they advanced to the finals and beat the Quad City Mallards in 5 games.

Both teams went out in a bang during the 2006-07 season, the last season that the UHL operated before changing to the International Hockey League (IHL), with a line brawl after the second period between the two teams at the December 8, 2006 game in Elmira. The brawl started when J.C. Ruid took a shot on the Jackals goal with 1 second left in the period then shoving started with Bruce Richardson and Chris Mann then continued with Jonathan Goodwin and Scott Wray once the referees broke up the Richardson scuffle.  As the teams were exiting the ice for the second intermission the teams congregated around Kevin St. Pierre before the first punch was thrown by Curtis Tidball on current Jackal Nick Tuzzolino, who was making his pro-debut with the Komets, then the line brawl began.

It took the referees a minute and a half to get both teams off the ice. Before the refs could break up the two teams Kevin Hansen tried to get fan favorite Frank Littlejohn to square off but before that could happen Tidball came in and took on Hansen. The line brawl was the pot boiling over after the Jackals (8-4-0) were handed an 8-1 loss on November 17, 2006 only three weeks before the teams met again. That weekend saw the Jackals win 3-2 on Friday and the Komets win 5-3 on Saturday.

“Tidball decided to go hang out with our goalie and our bench was exiting at the same time. Their response was not very kind and lead into a pretty big melee.”  Tuzzolino, then only playing his second game at the professional level, had to say about the brawl. “It’s something I’ve taken with me throughout my career but that type of hockey pretty much doesn’t exist anymore”

The UHL rivalry ended with the conclusion of the 2006-07 season when the Jackals made the jump to the ECHL and the Komets stayed with the IHL until they went into the Central Hockey League in 2010. Within the seven year time frame the teams met 26 times with the Komets holding the advantage 18-4-4.

In the fall of 2012 the Komets made the jump to the ECHL and the rivalry was rekindled. Last season saw the two clubs go head to head for the first time since January 3, 2007 – a game the Komets won 1-0 on home ice.  The first match-up of the 2012-13 season was a thriller with the Jackals using a furious third-period rally to tie the game up 5-5 with 4:21 left. Despite Elmira’s late push, Jean-Michel Rizk got a goal with 42 seconds left in the game to give the Komets the win.

The Komets made their first road trip to Elmira for the last two match-ups of the season between the clubs when the Jackals struck quickly with a goal from Kyle Bushee 3:04 in to the game on March 22, 2013. The goals continued to come in the first period with a goal from Chaz Johnson 20 seconds after Bushees tally. Andrew Rowe, Steven Kaunisto, and Matt Tassone helped the Jackals get 5 on the board within the first 15:40 of the game. The Jackals were kept scoreless in the second and third but came out victorious with a 5-2 win over the Komets.

The next night saw a game just as exciting as the one before but for a different reason; a shootout. Though both teams were scoreless after the first Captain Jean Borbeau put the Jackals on the board with a goal 2:12 into the second period. The Jackals maintained the lead into the third until they gave up a power-play goal to Matt Syroczynski. Neither team could capitalize in the third or in overtime which sent the game into a shootout. Fort Wayne’s first shooter Jamie Milam got one past Ian Keserich but Matt Carter got the Jackals on the board. The next seven players couldn’t get the puck past the net-minders. Eric Delong got the puck past Charlie Effinger for the Jackals to win it 2-1 in a shootout.

Eleven days after being traded from Fort Wayne to the Jackals, veteran defenseman Tuzzolino would be facing off against his former club if he wasn’t on loan to the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League, but said if he was there he would expect there to “be a lot of tension between the Komets and them [Jackals] and myself with me and Southorn being traded. I’d expect it to be a very hard fought game and two teams that are about .500 clubs and they both desperately need wins.”

This weekend the Jackals look to continue the rivalry and a home winning streak against the Komets as they go head-to-head both Friday and Sunday night at First Arena, the first of seven match-ups between the clubs this season.