Monday afternoon, Komets President Michael Franke got a phone call to ask for a favor. Karin Thomsen was calling from Evergreen, Colo., to ask if she could bid on Shawn Szydlowski's jersey at Tuesday night's end-of-season fan party.
Knowing how her father, 63-year team broadcaster Bob Chase who passed away at Thanksgiving, admired Szydlowski, he sort of became Thomsen's favorite player this year, the one she lived this season vicariously through. But the request to bid in the jersey auction was also about more than that as she's building a small memorial to her father.
“She still listens and is very passionate about the Komets and Komets fans,” Franke said. “It's a very reflective period of time for her right now and the rest of her family. It was a special relationship between Bob and his daughter. Komet hockey is so important to her, and she misses her dad.”
Several times this season, when Thomsen came home to help organize her father's effects, she'd attend games and sit in the press box. When she'd look up into her father's booth, she often became very emotional.
Because the auction is set up to benefit several charities, Thomsen later understood she could not bid on Szydlowski's jersey, but the Komets are sending her something special. This was a very difficult season for Thomsen, and her affection for the team helped her mourn. Though the voice on the radio was different, the games were comforting.
“I was really hanging on with this team,” she said. “There was a lot I was hoping would continue. For me, I kept trying to put it into the perspective of, for whatever reason, Dad wanted this last season. I wanted the guys to fight for it, too, because it just kept us all connected longer.”
Whenever the Komets were on the road, Chase's routine was to call his daughter on the bus ride home. Karin, a teacher and coach, would listen to every games at least for a little bit so she could talk about what happened.
“I'd love when I'd hear him say. `These are a good group of guys and I'm having fun with them,' ” Thomsen said.
And Chase loved being part of the annual jersey auction, often taking over the bidding with long stories about each player. It was at last year's auction that Chase, who was 90 at the time, announced why he wanted to return for at least one more season, speaking passionately about how he believed this team could allow him to call one last championship.
Unfortunately, his health didn't allow that to happen, and he never got to call another game. Shane Albahrani stepped up as Chase's replacement, and no one knows better that Chase is irreplaceable.
“As long as I'm calling games,” Albahrani told the small Memorial Coliseum crowd last night, “Bob Chase's spirit will live on.”
And in a way, Thomsen still found that connection to her father by tuning in the games.
“I felt like I knew them because I talked to my dad about them, and I felt a better connection with everybody, even though it was different,” she said. “I'm grateful that Shane has his own style and thank God he's not some stranger they flew in. When Shane was on and I was listening, I didn't hear Dad, I heard Shane, and that was perfect. It's cool that he has that sense of family with the Komets.”
The connection she felt was part of what she wrote about in three pre-playoff letters to Szydlowski, coach Gary Graham and the team in general, trying to encourage them with thoughts about how much they all meant to Chase.
“It kind of got to the point that I needed to embrace everything about it,” she said. “Everywhere I was, I had my phone in my pocket and I listened to every single game. I was cheering and jumping up and down and doing all the things I always did before.”
She had a hard time listening to Albahrani at times during the season, but she eventually got past that and listened to every playoff game. Two weeks ago when the Komets went into overtime against Quad City, Thomsen was driving through a typical Colorado spring snowstorm. Though it was very slow going, she didn't mind because she wasn't leaving the car until the game was over anyway.
The season's story didn't turn into a all-time memory as the Komets lost to Toledo in the second round. Thomsen says she wanted more, but like her father, she understands that's how sports works sometimes.
But when next season begins Oct. 14 at home against Toledo, Thomsen will be listening once again.
“All 58 years of my life have been about the Fort Wayne Komets,” she said. “Because of how everybody makes me feel, I feel I'll never lose that and it means a lot to me. If Dad can hang in there for 63 years and still want more…. I've only been around for 58, so I can hang in there for a few more.”
Her dad would love that.
For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at @blakesebring, at his blog tailingthekomets.com and on Facebook at Blake Sebring.
The Komets raised $22,600 for charity during their annual jersey auction and end-of-season fan party Tuesday night at Memorial Coliseum. Rookie Mike Cazzola received the highest bid with $1,600 while Jamie Schaafsma, Shawn Szydlowski and Cody Sol received $1,500 bids. Mike Embach's sweater earned $1,400.