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Ben Smith

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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Former Komets Colin Lister, Ken Ullyot and Reg Primeau show off their newly-retired jerseys during a ceremony in 2001.

Front office legend the true ‘Mr. Komet’

They call Eddie Long “Mr. Komet.” But that’s never been quite right, and Eddie, a gracious man who knows the real story as well as anyone, would likely be the first to admit it.

Mr. Komet was Ken Ullyot. It’s as simple as that.

Without Ullyot, who died Thursday at 92, there would be no Fort Wayne Komets. He brought in business whiz Colin Lister to help right the franchise when it was drowning in red ink in the late 1950s, and later rescued the International Hockey League, too, at one time paying the salaries for two of the five remaining franchises and digging deep on more than one occasion to subsidize others.

So there’s a reason, you see, why the IHL’s Western Conference trophy was named for him. And why, in 1997, the Hockey News named him the IHL’s all-time greatest GM.

Today, the franchise he saved skates in the top Double-A hockey league, the ECHL, and is one of the biggest draws and most venerable organizations in minor-league hockey. At 62 years old, it dwarfs in longevity every minor-league hockey franchise but the Hershey Bears of the AHL.

But Ullyot’s influence goes beyond that. His achievements as a front-office legend tend to overshadow that fact that he also ranks third in franchise history in coaching victories with 264. And the quality of the players he summoned from Canada to some fly-speck Midwestern town is exceeded only by the quality of the men they were; if the city’s hockey life was vastly enriched by the likes of Long and Len Thornson and Lionel Repka and so many others, so, too, was its life beyond the rink.

The number of Ullyot’s former players who stayed here to raise families, coach theirs and other’s kids in hockey and youth baseball and – in the case of Gerry Randall’s son Dave, high school basketball – is staggering, and likely unprecedented.

They form a unique community within a community whose loyalty to both the city and each other continues to influence succeeding generations of players; long after Ullyot departed the scene, ex-Komets kept settling here, and do so to this day.

And the city is a better place for it.

Of all the grand legacies Ken Ullyot leaves to us, that may be the grandest.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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