When the final horn blew on the regular season for the Kansas City Mavericks, it was a tough pill to swallow for left-winger Loren Ulett. It was a season unlike any other. Between COVID protocols, a losing record, missing the playoffs and having his ice time cut, the season couldn’t be characterized as anything other than disappointing. When all was said and done, Ulett had skated in 39 games, just one more game than his rookie season. The Canadian has tallied five points on two goals and three assists, added 78 penalty minutes and a Plus/Minus rating of -8. He knew he had more in him. Now, he’s hungry for a chance to prove it.
The Port Perry, Ontario native has walked a long road to get to where he is now. He’s known he wanted to be a professional hockey player since he was five-years-old, but wanting to be a professional hockey player and actually getting to be a professional hockey player are two very different things.
“I always just wanted to be a professional”, said Ulett. “The work you put in at a young age gives you an opportunity to continue to play. I’ve wanted to play pro forever and I’ve always done the things you need to do to play professional hockey.”
The steps he took to play pro included grinding it out in the Ontario Junior Hockey League, where he was the most penalized player in 2014-15. Playing in Junior A, he saw a stint in 2013-14 with the Kingston Frontenacs.
At the young age of 19, he was invited to training camp with the Idaho Steelheads. It was here where he realized he was close to achieving his dream, but still needed a bit of development. So he went to the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, where he played for the Ridgebacks men’s hockey team. He told himself after his second year of school that he would play one more year and then make the jump to pro hockey. Asked about when he truly felt ready to for the professional stage, Ulett responded, “I felt ready when I was about 19 or 20, but at the same time, I’m happy I went the route that I did. It’s served me well and I’ve learned a lot along the way.”
In 2018, he was invited to Kansas City Mavericks training camp by John-Scott Dickson, who at the time served as head coach. Ulett had a strong camp and numerous people in Kansas City thought he would make the roster on opening night. But the 26-year-old was just edged out and went to the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) where he competed with the Birmingham Bulls. Finally, on January 2, 2019, he was loaned by the Bulls to the Mavericks, and he’s been a staple in the team’s lineup ever since. Speaking about the opportunity to join the Mavericks, Ulett said, “I love this city. When John-Scott [Dickson] took a chance on me, and I’m so grateful that he did, and that I’ve been able to find success that I have, I’ve grown as a person and a player in this city.”
Physicality has been the hallmark of Ulett’s career and it’s part of what has endeared him to so many Mavericks fans. Every Mavericks fan knows the sound. The thunderous crash against the boards reverberates throughout Cable Dahmer Arena. The crowd erupts. Loren Ulett has just destroyed another opponent. Between thunderous hits and flying fists, Ulett is a tough customer on both sides of the puck. He embraces the physical role that he has carved out for himself. “I am a physical player. Everything I do is to the max or for the most part and definitely my physicality is what sets me apart from other players.”
In three seasons with the Mavericks, Ulett has racked up 254 penalty minutes across 132 contests. But, he feels he has another dimension to his game that gets overshadowed by his physicality.
“I feel I have a large offensive upside that I’m just getting ready to utilize again this season,” he said. “If you look at my season two years ago, I was pretty high up there in regular strength goals in the league and that was in a tenth forward role. I think my physical play is so much higher than everything else that I do that I think a lot of my other skills get overlooked.”
In essence, Ulett sees himself as the quintessential power forward when he’s given the chance to utilize his offensive capabilities. Kansas City has had a number of power forwards in their history, but no others were quite like the man to whom Loren is often compared. Colt King was the ultimate example of a ferocious power forward. Mavericks fans will always remember King’s ability to both physically dominate the opponent, as well as drive offensive play. When being compared to King, Ulett said it’s a comparison he hears often and that he “looked him up and…think[s] it’s a really kind comparison.” He sees his game as being similar to that of Tom Wilson’s. Wilson is a polarizing, yet undoubtedly effective power forward for Ulett’s favorite NHL team, the Washington Capitals. Ulett says “he’s super physical, doesn’t need to fight a ton, but also had like 40 points [during the Capitals’ Stanley Cup Run in 2018].” He’s a very physical and strong player who stayed in the league because of his strong offensive play and ability to play a multitude of roles.
Ulett himself is a very versatile player. He’s played every position but goalie, and jokes if he needed to, he could probably be the emergency backup goalie. Ulett splits his time between playing as a defenseman and a forward. He says the decision of what position he plays is mostly dependent on the circumstances of the team, and said about the upcoming season, “I would assume I’m going to play more forward or a complete year at forward. That’s what I’m preparing for, that’s what I’m coming in to do.”
Ultimately, Ulett says he will always be willing to do what the team needs to be successful. He’s preparing to have a big, successful, bounce back season.
Ulett has a strong work ethic, one he feels is second to none in the league. It is inspired by his role model, the late and great Kobe Bryant. The “Kobe Mindset” drives him to train longer and harder, even in the offseason. Away from a game day routine, Ulett is on the ice almost everyday working on his skating and skills. This year, it is a bit easier to do that with COVID-19 restrictions easing.
Ulett also works with Josh Wrobel of Wrobel Elite Hockey. Affectionately called the “Toe Curve Club”, players who work with Wrobel include high draft picks, ECHL and AHL players. This even includes NHL players like Devante Smith-Pelly and Brandon Montour, who Ulett calls a “friend-of-a-friend.” Ulett says he often sends Wrobel clips of him playing and asks for coaching and advice. He is hoping to leverage all of this preparation into a successful season that sees the Mavericks making the playoffs.
When looking ahead to puck drop in October, Ulett says he is excited for things both on and off the ice. Most of all, he’s excited to have the fans back. “Not having fans [last season] was a little bit tough at times. The fans kind of hold you responsible in a sense. It livens up the building.”
Ulett cherishes the opportunities to interact with fans and the community. “I think it’s so important for the community to be involved, and for players to be involved in the community to kind of give back at the end of the day.” He hopes to be able to do several school and hospital visits, as well as meet and greets and other events with fans this season, which he couldn’t do last season due to pandemic protocols. He’s also excited for the expansion of the league, both between the Iowa Heartlanders and Trois-Rivieres Lions, and all teams returning to competitive action.
He’s looking forward to proving that he’s more than what he displayed last season. “I am excited to see the impact that I can have this year for our team and against others.”
In a recent interview with Bill Althaus of The Independence Examiner, Mavericks bench boss Tad O’Had explained, “Loren can be a game-changer when he wants to be, and we’re hoping he wants to be a difference maker for our team this season. Every time he steps on the ice, he has the ability to make us a better team.”
Loren is hungry to prove this to be the case. He loves it in Kansas City and wants to see the Mavericks organization grow and be successful. Loren sees making the playoffs and being competitive in the playoffs as essential to that growth. “I am never happy missing the playoffs, I haven’t missed the playoffs since I was like ten years old, so getting back into the playoffs is definitely step one [of being successful in the upcoming season and growing the organization].”
Ulett is going into his fourth season with the Mavericks, which makes him the longest tenured player on the team. He wasn’t aware that this was the case. It means a lot to him that the organization has placed so much trust in him to bring him back, even after an admittedly down year. He says that the management from owner Lamar Hunt Jr. right down to the coaching staff treat the players almost as if they’re “a level above” where they are and that makes playing in Kansas City an attractive proposition.
Ulett shared with The Examiner that players on other teams are taken aback by how well the players are cared for in Kansas City.
“I love the city, I love the fans, I’ve gotten to know a lot more people every year and I’m very comfortable there,” he said. “It’s one of the best spots in the league and there’s nowhere else in the ECHL that I’d rather play than Kansas City.”