FORT WAYNE – Defenseman Guy Dupuis epitomized determination during his 14 seasons with the Komets. So it’s fitting that on the night the team retired his No. 2, the Komets showed grit by coming back from a two-goal deficit for a 4-3 victory over the Evansville IceMen in an overtime shootout Saturday
Dupuis, 41, who played a franchise-record 1,040 games with the Komets, became the 13th player to have his number retired.
The 15-minute pregame ceremonies included plenty of emotion and laughter.
“Am I going to miss hockey? Hey, sure,” said the former captain, who retired last summer, after helping the Komets to four championships. “I loved playing. I had a passion for it. But now I get to sit in the stands with my family, watch the Komets and yell, just like all of you do, ‘Shooooooooot.’”
The Komets (1-1-0) weren’t shooting with success early against the IceMen (1-0-1), giving up early goals to Josh Beaulieu and Brian Bicek.
The Komets had lost their season opener 5-0 to the visiting IceMen on Oct. 22 and didn’t get their first goal of the season until 7:49 of the second period Saturday, when forward Artem Podshendyalov flicked a backhander just underneath the crossbar.
Fort Wayne center Brett Smith scored twice – at the 17:52 and 19:59 marks of the second period – both by capitalizing when goaltender Pier-Olivier Pelletier failed to cover the puck, for a 3-2 lead.
Smith’s fortune could be traced to what’s perhaps a new pregame ritual; he cut his long locks that had been growing for more than a year.
“It was getting a little bit annoying, but at the same time, I just wanted to change things up,” said Smith, who also had a goal in the shootout. “With the way the first game had gone, I thought, ‘Let’s change it up a little bit.’ It sure did work. After that first period, the guys just started to click a little bit and to do the little things. We’ve got a lot of talented guys and when we’re working hard, things are going to work for us.”
After Beaulieu forced extra time at 19:16 of the third period, the Komets outscored the IceMen 3-2 in an 11-round shootout.
The Komets got shootout goals from Smith, Jesse Bennefield and the winner from Podshendyalov. The IceMen got tallies from Matt Gens and Todd Robinson.
Fort Wayne goalie Nick Boucher stopped 24 of 27 shots and 10 of 12 shootout attempts. Pelletier stopped 29 of 32 and 9 of 12.
“Our guys did a great job on special teams tonight,” said coach Al Sims, after the Komets scored on 2 of 6 power plays and killed off all three IceMen man-advantages.
“We’ve got some new lines going, some new life, and hopefully they’ll keep scoring.”
The Komets also have defenseman Brent Henley, who re-signed with the team after two seasons away. He fought Mike Sgroi in the second period when the Komets trailed by two goals.
For the 7,417 fans, the victory capped an evening that included the reading of letters to Dupuis from some famous hockey people.
“Guy, like all of us, you look a lot different today compared to 1992, when we won the Calder Cup in Adirondack of the AHL,” wrote ESPN’s Barry Melrose, who coached Dupuis as a rookie. “You were a great player then, and that continued throughout your career. It was a pleasure coaching you and I kept track of your career all through the years. I know you will always be a success in life.”
Another letter came from Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, who played with and coached Dupuis in Fort Wayne
“When I first met you, you were working your way up from being a seventh defenseman on your team, and from the start with your work ethic, I knew you were going to make it,” Boudreau wrote. “You were a great guy with great dedication to your teammates and a great leader. I am proud to have had you as a teammate, and (to have been) your coach. I have followed your career and am proud to say you are my friend.”
Dupuis won league-wide best defenseman awards three times with Fort Wayne.
“When I first got here, there were a couple things I noticed about the Komets’ fans,” Dupuis said. “The first thing was that the fans never liked the referees. The second thing was the passion that the Komets’ fans had for hockey. There was such excitement, passion and support you guys had for us.”