FORT WAYNE – Center Dean Ouellet, who had missed the previous 17 games with a concussion, wanted to be a difference-maker for the Komets on Thursday night.
And he certainly was in a 5-1 victory over the defending champion Reading Royals at Memorial Coliseum.
He scored one of the prettiest goals of the season by intercepting a pass, drawing Reading goalie Riley Gill out of the net, then slipping a shot inside the left goalpost that somehow rocketed into the top of the net.
I don’t know what it hit. I don’t know if it hit the goalie’s stick and went high. But I froze the goalie and had room to put it in, which was nice, said Ouellet, who was crucial in several faceoff victories.
The Komets are up 2-1 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinals, which continues tonight and Sunday at Memorial Coliseum.
It felt great, actually, after being out in the stands for that long, Ouellet said.
It was hard to see the guys compete and not be able to help them, but tonight I got my chance to help the team. The boys played solid for 60 minutes.
Ouellet hadn’t played since getting concussed in a 4-3 loss March 9 in Kalamazoo, Mich. He was, for a time, unsure if he’d be back this season.
At some point, you wonder, he said. When I first got the concussion, I was pretty worried. But I started feeling pretty good three weeks after the injury and was pretty confident I would be back for the playoffs.
In the regular season, Ouellet had one goal and 10 points in 16 games with Fort Wayne, after totaling 10 goals and 30 points in 38 games with San Francisco, which suspended operations because of financial problems.
He was inserted into the lineup Thursday, along with Sy Nutkevitch, in favor of healthy scratches Matt Carter and Jason Dale.
Ouellet had been skating hard in practices for about 10 days, and even made the trip to Reading, Pa., where the Komets won 2-1 on April 17 and lost 4-2 on Saturday.
We knew it was just a matter of time until he got back in the lineup, Fort Wayne coach Gary Graham said. He and Nuts have been skating on that fourth line, and I’ve been seeing them in practice the last couple weeks getting that chemistry.