RALEIGH, N.C. – Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Mike Komisarek exhibited his easy-going demeanor during some down time at Raleigh Center Ice on Friday.
As the on-ice session was ending, he stood and tipped shots in front of equipment manager Jorge Alves who had donned his goalie equipment in Cam Ward’s absence.
Even Jeff Skinner got into having some fun along with Komisarek as he lay on the ice while the veteran successfully completed saucer passes over him to a waiting Pat Dwyer.
It’s a side of professional hockey that you don’t always get to see or read about, but it’s still a major reason why these guys play the game – because they enjoy it.
However, don’t be misled as this jovial and youthful energy release came only after 15 minutes of non-stop end-to-end stride skates had ended.
They put in the hard work, and they took some time to have some fun too.
Soon it will be time for all of them to get down to business and as a new and incoming free agent, Komisarek understands that he has to earn his spot to defend the blue line for the Hurricanes.
“There’s a tremendous amount of talent and skill and I think we have a young, exciting team,” Komisarek said.
“If I can come in and compliment the leaders on this team – the Staals, Harry and Glease – and help the young guys along, that would be great.”
Heading into his 11th year in the NHL, the 6-foot-4-inch, 235 pounder still exudes a youthful attitude and outlook on where he currently stands in his NHL career.
He was a first round draft pick (7th overall) of the Montreal Canadiens back in 2001, and when he took a regular spot in their lineup for six seasons which included an All-Star game appearance in 2009, he played a solid shutdown role highlighted by hits, blocked shots, and logging significant minutes.
That was the style of game he played then as a true defensive defenseman.
However, somehow he moved away from playing his game, and saw his playing time over a four year period with the Toronto Maple Leafs literally disappear.
He only dressed for four games with the Leafs last season and was a healthy scratch for 26 others before he was placed on and cleared waivers to play seven games for the team’s AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies.
“I don’t think the last (few) years have been who I am as a player,” Komisarek said.
When he describes who he is on the ice, he includes pretty well every descriptor of a reliable defenseman that any team would want, and one that plays a style that the Hurricanes are in need of.
“Just a solid, shutdown defenseman that’s physical, block shots, stands up for his teammates – moves pucks quickly and keeps it simple day in and day out – and is tough to play against.”
Komisarek is candid in describing the journey he’s taken while straying from the style that he is most comfortable with and wants to get back to playing.
“I’ve sort of digested and put what’s gone on the last couple of years behind me,” Komisarek said.
“I don’t think about it. I’ve digested it. It’s in the past. I’m coming in here eager to prove myself again, and that I can contribute on a winning playoff team.”
His comment hits a poignant point when the talk of postseason play comes up.
Ironically enough, Komisarek last played in the NHL playoffs as a member of the Canadiens back in 2009, the same year that Carolina last played into late April and beyond.
It’s not surprising then that both he and his new team have the exact same goal in mind.
“We want a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup, that’s the ultimate goal,” he continued.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to the playoffs.”
In working to claim a spot on the Hurricanes roster, Komisarek will start training camp with a healthy body and clear mind.
“The body hasn’t felt this good in a long time,” he said.
“I think I’m in a good place physically and mentally and I want to make the most of the opportunity that’s been given to me. I want to take advantage of that.”
Hearing this, it’s not surprising that Komisarek teems with confidence and a stress-free attitude.
He understands what he has to do and is ready to show that he’s got the game to help Carolina win.
Even while flashing a boyish smile, he knows that appearances are just that – appearances.
“For me, I want to earn the respect of my teammates and coaches first,” Komisarek said.
“You do that by (showing) your work ethic and attitude on and off the ice, the way you carry yourself, and that’s been the biggest thing. You want to provide reliability. You want to give the coaches a feeling of certainty when they put you on the ice. It’s gotta’ be earned. It’s almost like earning a line of credit at the bank – earning that trust – and that’s what I’ve gotta’ earn. Nothin’ is given in this day and age. You don’t expect anything. Everything’s gotta’ be earned. That’s my mindset.”
Thus, if Komisarek is successful in earning the trust of his teammates and head coach Kirk Muller and his staff, he will play as the reliable defenseman he knows he is.
Hurricanes fans will then see him regularly on the ice playing his game – dishing out hits, blocking shots, mixing it up and protecting his teammates – and having fun while doing it.