There were so many reasons that Justin Hodgman wanted to put on a Komets' uniform again. And after seven years of waiting, he'll get to do so again.
The center who scored one of the biggest goals in franchise history – the triple-overtime Game 7 winner in the 2008 Turner Cup Finals, after Fort Wayne had been down 3-1 in the series with Port Huron – re-signed with Fort Wayne today for a fourth stint with the Komets.
“It feels great. I always knew that this would come. I didn't know when it would be or if it would be early in my career or what. But I'm truly excited to be a Komet again and I can't wait to get this thing going,” Hodgman said.
Hodgman, 29, helped the Komets to championships in 2008, 2009 and 2010, the last time he played for them.
“I just absolutely love playing in front of these fans, in this city and for this organization,” Hodgman said. “I thrive playing here. I always wanted to come back. And obviously my family is here and this is home for me now.
"It just wasn't realistic for me to come back soon, but now I'm hitting the reset button. I know I'm 29 but I'm still hoping I can be successful and move up (to the American Hockey League or NHL).”
While Hodgman joined the Komets late in the season in his three previous stints, this season he'll have the benefit of training camp.
“It'll definitely be a different landscape than the last three times I was here,” he said, adding that he's a more seasoned and better player now. “That's the expectation, right? To improve every year? I'd like to think I'm a better player but we'll leave that up to my fans.”
After talking with Hodgman about a return for years, general manager David Franke is probably as excited as the fans.
"Justin's two children were born in Fort Wayne and will finally see their dad in a Komets jersey this season," Franke said. "We are excited to welcome back Hodgie to the Komet family. Justin will wear his familiar No. 88 when he hits the ice for the Komets in October."
Since the 2010 Cup, Hodgman has spent most of his time playing overseas in the Kontinental Hockey League, though he played five NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes in 2014-15, scoring a goal.
"Justin is a dynamic playmaker from the center position," Komet coach Gary Graham said. "Justin knows the Komet culture inside and out and what our expectations are. To be able to play in front of his kids this year and work his way back up to (American Hockey League) is something special and I'm glad I can help be a part of it."
Hodgman first joined the Komets in 2008 as a rookie out of the Ontario Hockey League. He had four goals and eight points in 11 regular-season games with the Komets, then added seven goals and 14 points in 13 postseason games as he was named the IHL's playoff MVP.
After returning to Erie for his final junior season, he was back with the Komets in 2009 and had two goals and five points in six regular-season games, then seven goals and 12 points in 11 playoff games.
He had his first AHL action in 2009-10 with the Toronto Marlies, though he again returned to Fort Wayne late in the season, totaling one goal and three points in three regular-season games and four goals and 16 points in 10 playoff games.
He spent the bulk of the 2010-11 season in the AHL with the Marlies, then played 2011-12 in Finland and 2012-14 in the KHL before a contract with the Coyotes landed him in the NHL and in 62 games with the AHL's Portland Pirates, for whom he totaled 11 goals and 35 points in 62 games.
The last two seasons, Hodgman played in the AHL with Chicago, and also in Sweden, in the Czech Republic and in Finland, where has accrued 11 goals and 22 points in 30 games.
The Komets, who open the regular season Oct. 14 at Memorial Coliseum against the Toledo Walleye, have signed 12 players for the coming season -- forwards Jamie Schaafsma, Gabriel Desjardins, Garrett Thompson, Taylor Crunk, Mason Baptista and Dennis Kravchenko, defensemen Jason Binkley, Cody Sol, Curtis Leonard and Ryan Lowney, plus goaltender Garrett Bartus.