Kenneth Duncan Ullyot
Born: June 29, 1922 (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan)
Died: December 12, 2013 (Fort Wayne, Indiana)
Ken Ullyot guided the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Komets of the International Hockey League to Turner Cup championships in 1963 as a coach, in 1965 as a general manager, and in 1973 as an owner. He was known as the “father of Komets hockey.”
He arrived in Indiana in 1958 and served the Komets until retiring in 1986. In 1997, the Hockey News named him the all-time greatest general manager in league history. As well, the league awarded the Ken Ullyot Trophy to the winner of the Western Division.
The Komets retired sweater No. 58 in recognition of the year of Ullyot’s arrival in the city.
Ullyot was the youngest of six children in his family. The boy was aged five when his businessman father died from an asthma attack. As a teenager, he delivered telegraphs by bicycle when not playing hockey. He won a juvenile championship with the Saskatoon Chiefs in 1939 before moving up to junior hockey with the Saskatoon Dodgers (1939-40) and Junior Quakers (1940-41).
The 6-foot, 155-pound centre starred on a line with brothers Eddie and Harry Watson, the latter going on to win five Stanley Cup championships with the Toronto Maple Leafs, as well as a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
In 1941, he attended training camp for the New York Americans of the NHL. He was assigned to the amateur Washington Eagles, scoring 27 goals and adding 49 assists in 58 games.
Ullyot was in New York for a game on Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and the day on which the United States declared war. The Eagles were playing the New York Rovers at Madison Square Garden that afternoon.
“They asked everyone connected with the (military) service to get cracking and to get back to where they belonged,” he told author Blake Sebring for the book, “Legends of the Komets.” “It didn’t look ike we would finish the game, but then we did. We went home in the train and it was mostly lights out. There weren’t any lights on in Washington. We lived about three blocks south of the White House and we had to walk home from the station. It was a pretty scary time for everybody.”
The game at the Garden had been witnessed by 13,126 fans, the largest crowd of the season for the Rovers. Ullyot was serving a tripping penalty when the Rovers scored the winning goal in the 6-5 contest.
At the end of the season, Ullyot returned to Saskatchewan, where he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He also got married, his new bride moving to Vancouver to live with her mother. Ullyot wound up being transferred to the Coast, as well, where a squad of hockey players under the command of legendary hockey player Frank Frederickson played senior hockey, as well as exhibition games to raise funds for the war effort. Ullyot spent his war at the air force base at Sea Island, south of Vancouver.
In 1946, he joined the New Westminster Royals of the Pacific Coast Hockey League. He led the league in scoring in 1947-48 with 109 points on 38 goals and 71 assists. In seven seasons in the PCHL, he was twice named to the league’s First All-Star team.
Hampered by shoulder injuries, he took a job in 1953 as a playing coach for the Kamloops (B.C.) Elks of the Okanagan Senior League. He was fired after a 27-33-4 season, and decided to hang up his skates. After a brief stint as a haberdasher, he took a job as coach of the junior Prince Albert (Sask.) Mintos. After four seasons, he moved to Indiana to pilot the Komets as coach and general manager. He signed a contract on the back of a cigarette package proffered by the team’s chain-smoking owner. The contract detailed no salary, nor did it declare a length of service.
The IHL struggled in those years as teams dropped out. The Komets thrived on the ice and at the gate, as Ullyot called on his Saskatchewan connections to keep the roster filled with capable players. In time, his own son, Ron, made the team. He, too, would be a Komets coach, as the Ullyots became a rare father-son combination to have won the Turner Cup.
Ullyot was predeceased by his wife, Violet, known as Vi, who died in 2009.