FORT WAYNE – Forward Chris Auger had one of the ECHLs worst injuries last season.
Thank Evansvilles Matt Gens, who went low with a hit in the fourth game of the season, tearing Augers ACL, MCL and meniscus and ending his season.
It was a blow for Auger, who had led the Komets to the CHL title in 2011-12 with 28 goals and 59 points in 57 regular-season games, then 10 goals and 22 points in 18 playoff games.
And it was a blow for the Komets, who in their first ECHL season missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
Now, theres a new head coach in Fort Wayne – Gary Graham – and only a handful of players back from last season: Auger, Brandon Marino, Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock, John Dunbar and Jeremy Gates.
Tonight, the Komets will play the first of three exhibition games, at Wheeling, W.Va., and Auger needs to prove he still belongs here despite so much time out of the lineup.
Im feeling great, Auger said. I was activated in the middle of the summer. I was able to do training camp with my old junior team (the Wellington Dukes) to get back on the ice and it was good to be back in old practice situations. Its been good.
Despite being out of the lineup last season, Auger remained in Fort Wayne and was a staple in the press box during games and in the locker room afterward.
Ive never had to miss an entire season for injury, he said. They happen through the season, and you get bumps and bruises, but nothing to that extent. It was unfortunate.
But the blessing is he comes into this season with a clean slate; he wasnt purged with the bulk of the roster from last season.
Auger, 25, who was a sixth-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2006, knows it might take a bit for him to regain his timing and conditioning. But he cant afford to wait long; theres a lot of talent in camp, and at least seven players wont make the regular-season squad.
Theres going to be transition period. I havent played a game in almost a year, he said. But Im hoping there isnt that lengthy period of time to get my stride back. Hopefully after a couple of exhibition games and training camp, Ill have my timing back. Its like riding a bike. You get back on the ice, and it felt pretty natural after getting over the first couple of skates.
The biggest challenge may not be the time off. Hes not wearing a knee brace and needs to get used to the limitations of that.
I dont see it being that big of a difference. Im already comfortable, he said.
I expect to produce at the level I was before. Im not lowering any expectations.