FORT WAYNE – After the San Francisco Bulls folded on Jan. 27 because of financial problems, and all of their players were declared free agents, the prize to be had by other ECHL teams was forward Dean Ouellet.
A 26-year-old center, he totaled 37 goals and 88 points in 109 games over two seasons with the Bulls.
Almost immediately, his phone was flooded with calls and messages from former teammates Simon Danis-Pepin and Christian Ouellet, who had played with him in San Francisco and wanted him to join them on the Komets.
They were a huge factor, said Dean Ouellet, who signed with the Komets on Jan. 30 and has helped them to a 5-1-2 record since then.
They are two of my best friends and theyd been talking to me about how great the organization is, how great the fans are and how great the city is here. Since Ive been here, its been a blast. Its been great. Theres great support.
Ouellet was selected the MVP last season in San Francisco, which averaged only 2,292 fans per game this season. With 7,209 fans per game, Fort Wayne is second to Ontario (7,852), and Ouellet has shouldered the expectations of those fans that come with centering the Komets top line.
He has tallied a point in 6 of 8 games with the Komets, totaling one goal and seven points. Including his time with the Bulls, he has at least one point in 12 of his last 14 games, and for the season he has 11 goals and 37 points in 46 games.
He has been skating alongside Brandon Marino, who has 21 goals and a league-leading 65 points, and Chris Auger, who is second in the ECHL with 23 goals to go with his 41 points.
When you have guys like Marino, hes a great player and you just want to give him the puck. He creates so much, Ouellet said. And the one thing about him is hes such a hard worker. Night in and night out, hes the hardest worker on the ice. Just to see that, you want to do the same and work as hard. And you want to get him the puck and hell put it on net. Its the same with Auger.
Having Ouellet has eased the loss of Scott Fleming, who had been called up to the American Hockey League when Ouellet was signed, but suffered an ankle injury in his first game back with the Komets.
For the record, the Komets Dean and Christian Ouellet arent related. It gets confusing, though, because Dean has a brother named Christian and both have fathers named Guy.
We do get asked a lot if were related, Dean Ouellet said. Were not but hes a great guy.
The Komets (23-15-11) take on the Florida Everblades (26-17-5) in Estero, Fla., tonight, Friday and Saturday.
With 57 points each, they are tied for sixth place in the Eastern Conference. The top eight teams will make the playoffs – the Komets missed the postseason last year – and only eight points separate second-place Kalamazoo (62 points) and 10th-place Wheeling (54).
I think our team is really deep, said forward Matt Carter, whose Komets have 23 games remaining in the regular season. Were going into Florida and they also have a very deep team. But if we keep playing the way weve been playing – our goaltending has been superb – then we can beat anyone on any night.