After spending the last three seasons with the Komets, forward Chris Auger is leaving to play in Europe, he confirmed today.
Auger declined to say where he’ll be playing.
“I’m not going to say what team it is until that team puts out its press release in the next couple weeks, but I can confirm that I will be going to Europe,” said Auger, a forward, who had 29 goals and 55 points in 68 games this season.
He added one goal and two points in 11 playoff games, as the Komets reached the Eastern Conference semifinals.
It was a terrific comeback season for Auger, who missed all but four games in 2012-13 after suffering a knee injury during a game against Evansville.
“The biggest thing I will remember is this guy came in, after we told him last summer that he’d have to earn his spot, and he came into training camp in great shape and he had one of the biggest years of his career,” Fort Wayne coach Gary Graham said. “He was a big reason that we had the turnaround we did.”
Auger, 26, a sixth-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2006, helped the Komets to the CHL championship in 2012. That season, he had 28 goals and 59 points in 57 games, then added 10 goals and 22 points in 18 playoff games.
“Any time you make a change like this, it’s a tough decision,” Auger said. “Leaving Fort Wayne will be difficult. I’ve been here three years and it’s a second home to me. I have close friends and my girlfriend lives here.
"It’s tough to pick up your life, but the money is exciting. It’s not something you can get here unless you’re in the (American Hockey League), and that’s not really part of my life any more.”
The Komets had already lost the ECHL’s top scorer, and two-time team MVP, Brandon Marino, to Europe. Also going overseas are Dean Ouellet and Matt Carter.
Graham said this is par for the course in the ECHL and that his players had been fielding calls from teams in Europe about next season for months.
“There’s no question, this is a challenge for an ECHL coach,” Graham said.
The money in Europe is more than ECHL teams can normally afford to pay.
“You look at guys at how many guys had career years for us, especially for a guy like Auger to come back and have a career year in goals, … I just think there’s a very direct correlation with the high-end players in the (ECHL) going over there to Europe early in the summer. I saw it last year, as I tried to recruit players,” Graham said.
The Komets aren’t able to sign any players, per ECHL rules, until June 16. Graham said he won’t necessarily have any players signed that day but that he is currently focusing on re-signing players from this season’s team.
There is a rumor circulating that Scott Fleming has already signed in Europe; he couldn’t be reached to confirm or deny that.
Auger has only played in Europe once.
“I’ve been over there when I was younger, 17 or 18, playing for the U18 Canada team,” he said. “I went to Russia. Other than that, I’ve never played professionally. The crowds in Russia were intense, but as far as living in Europe, it will be a new experience.”
Added Graham: “(Auger) has done great things at the Double-A level, and the AHL isn’t probably a goal for him like it was the last couple years. This is the time that guys start looking at Europe. Guys will usually take a chance at Europe at least once. You can’t be upset with guys making career choices like this.”