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Last updated: Thu. May. 29, 2014 - 09:00 am EDT

Komets great Primeau passes away

Center's No. 12 was retired in 2001

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Reggie Primeau, who always inspired the Komets on and off the ice, died Wednesday afternoon at age 77.

Though he scored 222 goals and 595 points in 511 games over eight seasons with the Komets, Primeau almost never arrived in Fort Wayne.

With their three children in the back seat, he and his wife, Sonja, were driving across the country from Portland, Ore., in January 1961, when they got as far as Cheyenne, Wyo. After bouncing around the minors through six teams in four years and never playing more than

57 games in one spot, Primeau was wondering whether it was time to try the next phase of his life.

He had an offer from his former Prince Albert junior coach Ken Ullyot to play for the Komets, but Cheyenne just happened to be at the intersection where the Primeaus could turn north and head directly home to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

"It was kind of hard because Pam was just a baby at 6 months, Rich was 3 and Greg was 2,'' Sonja Primeau said. "There was no such thing as disposable diapers back then, and the money was tight. It was tempting just to go home, but in the wintertime there probably wouldn't have been as much to do up there.''

Primeau called his mother, Mary Catherine Primeau, who had given birth to 16 children and raised 12. Reggie was the second youngest.

"I told her where I was and what I was thinking,'' he said. "She said, 'No, Reg, don't quit, keep going and stay with this.' So I kept going and I got here. Once I made up my mind, that was it.''

So the Primeaus came to Fort Wayne and Reggie became one of the Komets' all-time best players and a two-time Turner Cup champion as the perfect second-line center behind International Hockey League scoring king Len Thornson. He also became a Fort Wayne institution until his retirement in 1969.

Recognizing Primeau's Cree heritage from his mother's side of the family, organist Norm Carroll would sometimes play an Indian "war dance'' before Primeau would take a faceoff.

"It would get me going, too,'' Primeau said with a laugh.

Teammate Andy Voykin had called Primeau "Hawkeye'' during their junior days because of the book "The Last of the Mohicans.'' Then linemate Roger Maisonneuve started calling Primeau "Chief.''

Ullyot even got in on the act, saying, "I've known him since he was born and was the first one into the teepee to change his diaper.''

Another time the Komets got caught in a massive snowstorm and had to hole up in a gas station. Seeing Primeau wrapped up in a blanket near the door, a stunned customer asked whether Primeau was a real cigar store Indian.

No matter how much his teammates teased, Primeau always had a smile on his face. He could also initiate the laughs as well as be the target.

Along with working as a food salesman, Primeau continued to raise his family here and go to games with Sonja. When diabetes forced a kidney transplant in 1998, his former teammates held a raffle to raise money.

After diabetes cost Primeau his right leg in October 2000, his teammates would take him in his wheelchair to events or let him ride along in a golf cart. He eventually learned to walk again with a prosthesis but was unable to skate.

Recognized as the Komets' smoothest skater, Primeau always wanted to be the first player out for practice because he loved listening to his skates cracking the fresh ice. After losing his leg, he never thought he'd hear the sound again, but in 2005 he tried a new prosthesis. For the first time in eight years, he was skating again.

"At least it looked like I was really skating,'' Primeau said. "I didn't think I would be able to get my right leg off the ice, but it came.''

Within 30 minutes, he was making turns and skating figure-eights. He skated for an hour and 20 minutes, and even after going more than 100 times around the rink he didn't want to come off. When he finished, Primeau and Toepfer walked down to the other end where the Komets were starting practice to talk to coach Greg Puhalski and the players.

"I was really happy,'' Primeau said. "I didn't do any real fast skating, just so I could get my legs moving. I think it's going to work out OK. I think I'm going to be able to move pretty good.''

He was always more than pretty good. His No. 12 has hung in the Memorial Coliseum rafters since being retired by the Komets in 2001.

Services are pending.

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