After giving up on signing Mario Larocque earlier this summer, the Fort Wayne Komets are close to signing the defenseman General Manager David Franke said Monday.
Larocque, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound veteran, would give the Komets a boost of experience and toughness on the blue line. Last season he had 5 goals, 15 points and 187 penalty minutes in 46 games with Danbury.
``I think we're headed in the right direction, and that there's a real good chance that he's going to come on board on with us,'' Franke said. “Nothing is finalized yet, but we're close to getting something done with him.''
A first-round draft pick by Tampa Bay in 1996, Larocque, 28, has played most of his career in the International and American hockey leagues. He also played five games for the Lightning in 1998, and played for Komets coach Pat Bingham with Wheeling of the East Coast Hockey League in 2003-04.
``I thoroughly enjoyed my experience of being on the same team and pulling in the same direction with Mario,'' Bingham said. “I think he's a great team guy. He's always trying to give the team what it needs.''
The Komets acquired the rights to Larocque in the United Hockey League's dispersal draft after Danbury folded. Originally, the Komets felt they weren't going to be able to afford Larocque who wanted similar pay to what he received in Danbury. The Trashers folded after it was revealed they spent nearly three times as much as the UHL salary cap last season, causing the league to adopt a hard cap this summer.
``Mario came down on his demands, and we just explained to him where we were at money-wise with this hard cap,'' Franke said. “This is where he'd like to play and if we can get it done we're going to get it done.''
Part of Larocque's decision is because of whom the Komets already have signed. He's good friends with and a former teammate of player/assistant coach Bruce Richardson, has been a teammate with forward Daniel Goneau and he knows defenseman Guy Dupuis and goaltender Kevin St. Pierre. In fact, this week Larocque is working out with Richardson and Goneau at Richardson's pre-season camp on Montreal.
``When I signed here, I think that started to make sense for Mario,'' Richardson said. “I talked to Mario the other day, and he said, `I guess we'll probably play together again this year.' I think Mario respects me, and by me going there, he knows we're not going to have a lousy team. I think he put it all together, and it was a no-brainer.''
Franke said the Komets are currently working on a couple of other deals which may be announced late this week. He said that as the Oct. 2 opening of training camp gets closer, more players are starting to return his calls.
``It's getting a little late for players, and it's time for guys to make up their mind and decided I they want to play or sit,'' Franke said. “I think more players are going to decide they'd rather play.''