#8…Quad City Mallards at Fort Wayne Komets
United Hockey League Colonial Cup Finals…Game 5…May 4, 2003
If you’re reading this and you are a Komets fan, you are probably thinking how crazy it is that this is only #8. Also if you are a Komets fan you probably know that this was one of the most thrilling wins in history. Just stay tuned for the rest of the list and I’ll try to explain reasoning where possible. Also remember that it’s MY list and I’m simply hoping I add some entertainment and readability for you.
It was less than 24 hours after a game 4 at the Mark of the Quad Cities. We had made the 6 hour drive to see us get one step closer to capturing the first Colonial Cup since joining the UHL. It was an easy 6-0 (possibly 7-0, I don’t remember exactly) victory for the Fort Wayne Komets. They led the series 3-1. We made the mistake of not getting a hotel room and drove back the same night/morning. We arrived back in Fort Wayne, but not before the sun did.
After a long nap, we were set to go to the Memorial Coliseum to potentially see a championship for the Komets for the first time in 10 years. The atmosphere was electric and the largest crowd to ever see a Komets game showed up in a frenzy. Little did we know how intense this game would get later on.
The game was tied 1-1 at the end of what was quite honestly a boring 60 minutes. There were so few scoring chances and neither team was willing to make any mistakes. After a 15 minute intermission, sudden death overtime began.
Everyone that was in the arena was on the edge of their seat, but unfortunately not everyone had returned from intermission. There were actually people who went to either go smoke, go wait in line for concessions, or go do whatever that took longer than 15 minutes. Now let me ask you a question…if you knew you were going to overtime with a chance to win the championship, would you not make every single effort to make sure you were in your seat at the drop of the puck?
As the overtime began, Quad City took over right away. there were a couple scrums for the puck in the Komets end when forward Bobby Stewart managed to pick up a loose puck and send a backhander in the air out to center ice. It hit the stick of Ryan Severson almost perfectly. Severson had Dustin Virag on his right and only a single defenseman in front of them. The crowd began to stand in unison as the 2 on 1 developed.
At this point Severson crossed the blue line and just stopped. I’d never seen anything quite like that as generally you try and attack the net. This time however, the defenseman stopped as well while Virag kept going. Severson put a saucer pass right on Virag’s stick who came in all alone on the Quad City goaltender. The goalie went for a diving poke check while Virag never deked. He shot the puck right under the cross bar and it came rebounding out off the bar inside the net. Virag immediately threw his gloves off and skated around the ice. The initial reaction of the crowd was that they weren’t sure if the puck was in, mainly because you could hear what sounded like cross bar. However, it was most definitely a goal.
The crowd went nuts and it is close to as loud as I’ve ever heard Memorial Coliseum. Virag skated around as his team followed him in celebration. Ribbon and confetti and all kinds of celebratory junk was thrown around the spectators as they had just witnessed an amazing goal and championship.
This was a team built for a championship. It became the best defensive team in UHL history, not necessarily because of their goaltender Tom Lawson (who to this day I think is the most overrated goalie the Komets have ever had), but because of coach Greg Puhalski’s incredible defensive system. 2002-2003 was a special season that had a huge spark midway through it. I’ll discuss that moment later on in my countdown.
While the Komets were in the International Hockey League for nearly 47 years, the drop to the AA UHL never got me back to the point of excitement that the IHL did. They recently changed the name of the UHL to the “IHL” but no matter how much they try and sugarcoat it, it’s NOT the same International League. Fort Wayne is close to if not the mecha of minor league hockey and it really deserves AAA hockey again. While visiting Fort Wayne last December I went to an “IHL” game and it was so boring to me. I’m thinking the best times, like the one above, are behind them for a variety of reasons…but this is all for another day.
The Komets winning the 2003 Colonial Cup in overtime of game 5 is number 8 on my top 15 sports moments.