Chris Francis skated up to Fort Wayne Komets head coach Gary Graham Saturday night and said, "I'm already sick and tired of seeing you."
Francis' old coach quickly responded back to the Quad-City Mallards captain, "Well, get used to it."
It's no surprise these teams aren't exactly friends. The Mallards and Komets met 12 times in the regular season and are now set to play a best-of-seven playoff series starting Friday night at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
"When you play a team 12 times you get familiar with each other and rivalries form," forward Brady Brassart said. "There's definitely one between us so it's going to be a pretty hard-fought battle. They're a high-paced team and like to get in on the forecheck and bump some bodies. We know, we expect that and we've got to be ready for that."
It's been 14 years since the two teams last met in the playoffs, but the rivalry's roots go back to the United Hockey League. The Mallards bested the Komets in the semifinals two straight years before the Komets knocked off the Mallards four games to one to capture the Colonial Cup in 2003, their last postseason meeting.
A lot has changed since Fort Wayne's Dustin Virag scored 39 seconds into overtime of Game 5 to give the Komets that championship. Both teams changed leagues multiple times, with the Mallards following the Komets to the International Hockey League, the Central Hockey League and finally the ECHL.
The Komets have also enjoyed more success since 2003, winning three straight IHL titles, a CHL title and making it to the ECHL semifinals last year.
The Mallards aren't exactly in awe of Fort Wayne's recent accomplishments, or that the Komets finished 14 points ahead of them in the standings.
"We’re not afraid to play anyone," Francis said. "The group we have in there is very close and you’ll see in the playoffs we’ll come together and take care of each other and you’ll see a different team."
An extra wrinkle in the rivalry is the number of former Mallards who have ended up on a Komets roster through the years. Brandon Marino, Thomas Frazee and Joe Perry all joined the Komets after standout seasons with the Mallards, and though all three are gone now, there is still a distinct Quad-City impact on the current Fort Wayne roster.
Kyle Thomas, Mason Baptista and Kyle Follmer all played at various points for the Mallards, and all three have been solid acquisitions for the Komets, particularly Thomas.
The 27-year-old played just one game for the Mallards in 2014, joined Fort Wayne and has blossomed into one of the top players in the league. He scored 27 goals and added 42 assists for 69 points in just 58 games this year, and spent part of this season in the AHL with the Cleveland Monsters, playing with current Mallard Alex Petan.
"It's definitely something you remember but you don't really think too much about it," Thomas said of his time with the Mallards. "It's playoff hockey and it's a new season so you try to bring everything you can to it every night. I think anytime you play that team that amount of times in a season, you build up some animosity towards each other. It should make for an entertaining series."
The regular-season matchup favored the Komets this year, as Fort Wayne won eight of the 12 games, including 5-2 and 6-1 victories to close out the season.
But both teams feel those last two games weren't indicative of how the series will turn out, and expect the matchup to be closer to the type of game the Mallards played back on March 24, a fast-paced, tight-checking game that Quad-City won 4-3 in overtime.
"I don't think what the record was in those 12 games really carries in too much, just the types of games will carry into playoffs," forward Grant Arnold said. "It's going to be physical, a lot of skill on the ice from both teams and two good goalies from both teams."
The Mallards are hoping to get Brassart, Arnold and Alex Petan back sooner rather than later, and their presence — key in that overtime win — certainly adds something the team was missing last weekend with them out.
"I think Brass and I are that grinder forward that can score and is hard to play against and that's playoff hockey," Arnold said. "We're both dying to get back."
Of the 12 games played this season, eight were played early in the season, before the Mallards relieved Terry Ruskowski and promoted Phil Axtell to head coach. The two teams met just four times in the last two-and-a-half months, splitting the meetings.
Though that layoff and coaching change may have let tempers cool somewhat, with so many games to be played now in so little time, expect the heat to be turned back up once the puck drops Friday night.
"The rivalry, I don’t think it’s as strong as if we had 12 in the last three months but, that being said, we have played them a lot of times," Axtell said. "I’m sure there’s going to be tempers and with Baptista, Thomas, Follmer, they’ve done a great job with those guys, developing them and turning them into the second seed in the division.
"I think it's going to be a dogfight."
Register named defenseman of the year: Colorado Eagles star Matt Register was awarded the CCM ECHL defenseman of the year award Wednesday, the second time in his career he's won the award.
Register led all ECHL defenseman with 64 points, second with 18 goals and second with 46 assists.