As far as annual State Fair road trips go for the Carolina Hurricanes, this one isn’t that bad at all.
The four-game, nine-day roadie – if you can even call it that, considering the team will return to North Carolina in the middle of the trip – begins in Toronto on Thursday against an upstart Maple Leafs club that leads the Atlantic Division at 6-1-0 (12 points).
It will also be defenseman Mike Komisarek’s first trip back to Toronto, where he spent the previous four seasons of his career before being bought out over the summer.
Whether he’s in the lineup or not – he’s only logged a game for the Hurricanes this season – returning to a familiar place as the opposition is always a marked occasion.
“It’s nice to go back and see some former friends and teammates,” Komisarek said.
“Any time you go play some former teammates or an organization, you want to do well,” said head coach Kirk Muller, who can relate both as a player and a coach. “I think he’s mature and experienced enough where, of course he’d like to go in and dress, play and have a good game, but he knows where he’s at right now.
“He’s been great about not playing every night, working and doing the stuff necessary to prepare,” Muller said. “If he gets in tomorrow, he’s going to be excited just to go out, play his game and show that he’s a good, solid, veteran defenseman in the NHL.”
After being the Maple Leafs’ high-profile, $22.5 million signing at the beginning of free agency in 2009, Komisarek played in 158 games over four seasons with Toronto. In the 48-game 2012-13 season, the West Islip, NY, native played just four games with the big club, logging an additional seven with Toronto’s AHL club.
With perhaps inflated expectations and untimely injuries, Komisarek found himself under the microscope. But that’s part of what makes Toronto a special place, for better or worse, in hockey.
“Everyone lives and breathes by how the hockey team is doing. Usually it’s on the front page and back page of the newspaper. It’s all people talk about, and you can’t get away from it anywhere you go,” Komisarek said. People are extremely passionate about how the team does. You come in after the weekend, and you could tell if the team won or lost a couple of games based on how people carry themselves at work on Monday.”
The Hurricanes have a number of players on their roster that hail from Ontario, and Muller, a native on Kingston, Ontario, expects his brother to be around for the game.
“It’s a great hockey town with a great atmosphere,” he said. “I don’t think it gets old, and that’s the fun thing about it.”
For Komisarek, it was time to move on. After 10 seasons in Montreal and Toronto, he sought a change of pace in North Carolina.
“There are a couple nice people at Whole Foods. Friendly ladies behind the counter always say hi and wish us luck,” he said when asked if he gets recognized around Raleigh. “People are always extremely supportive, and you’d be surprised how many Canes jerseys, t-shirts and hats that you see out in public. It’s nice to see, but it’s not the same 24/7, under-the-microscope atmosphere.”
Komisarek’s lone game played this season came on Oct. 11 against Los Angeles, as the team rounded out a back-to-back set. He logged 14:14 of ice time and was credited with two hits.
“I definitely want to contribute any way I can on or off the ice. It (North Carolina) has been awesome for myself and family,” Komisarek said. “You’re itching at the bit to get in there, contribute and get out there with your teammates.”
After the Canes face Toronto on Thursday, they’ll head to Long Island for a Saturday night match-up against a Metropolitan Division opponent in the New York Islanders, who currently sit in third place at 2-2-2 (six points).
The Hurricanes will then come back to Raleigh for four days, enough time to put in a few good practices before hitting the road again for Minnesota and Colorado. A four-game stretch is the longest the Canes will be away from PNC Arena this season.
This is the annual State Fair road trip, but it’s not that bad at all.
“It does break it up,” Muller said. “More importantly, we’ll have the opportunity to get some good practices in again. We’ll get a good assessment of the nine games, get back here and work on stuff that we need to work on. It’s actually a pretty good part of the schedule.”