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Komisarek endures tough start; out 3 weeks

by Shawn P. Roarke / NHL.com
Mike Komisarek knows a little bit about pressure. In seven NHL seasons, he has had just two homes, and each is in the running for the most demanding place to play in the NHL.

Komisarek, an American from West Islip, N.Y., broke into the League with Montreal in 2002-03. The Canadiens are only the most overall successful franchise in the NHL and dominate the sports pages in Quebec throughout the year.

This summer, Komisarek signed as a free agent in Toronto, another Original Six team. The Maple Leafs have not had as much success as the Canadiens, but their fans are just as passionate and just as demanding.

Things, however, haven't started out well for Komisarek in Toronto. The Maple Leafs are near the bottom of the League standings with only 11 points through 16 games and Komisarek's struggles to find his game are proportional. The big defenseman has yet to score a point and is a team-worst minus-9, after being a plus-13 for his career.

Worse, on Thursday the Leafs announced Komisarek has suffered a torn quadriceps muscle and will be out at least three weeks. The team will miss him. Komisarek was playing nearly 20 minutes a game for coach Ron Wilson and was often employed as a the shut-down defenseman against the top lines from opposing teams. Toronto Marlies defenseman Carl Gunnarsson was recalled to take Komisarek's spot on the roster.s

Komisarek, for his part, has no problem being under scrutiny from fans about his play.

"I'm very fortunate that I've played in one very passionate fan base and hockey market in Montreal and I think I'm going into the same situation in Toronto, where people live and die by the team and follow the players very passionately," Komisarek said. "Not too many guys get to play for two Original Six teams and I had a great time in Montreal and met a lot of great people there and now I am going to do the same thing in Toronto."

While even Wilson has to admit that Komisarek has started slower than expected, the coach said at this summer's Team USA Olympic orientation camp in Chicago that there is a lot to like about Komisarek and the rugged brand of hockey he plays.

"He is physical; he's involved and he's a gung-ho guy," Wilson said. "I really sense strong leadership qualities in his character and that is something that we need more of in Toronto and will obviously be a welcome addition here."

In fact, it was the intangibles, perhaps more than the on-ice statistics, that first interested Toronto GM Brian Burke to pursue the 27-year-old Komisarek when he hit the open market on July 1.

Burke is wearing a second hat this year as the general manager of Team USA for the Olympics and he was also on hand for the orientation camp in August. Not surprisingly, he couldn't stop raving about his newest addition.

"Mike Komisarek is everything I thought he was as a player," Burke said then. "For a big man, he's got good feet, a good first pass and he (checks) well, blocks shots. Certain elements of his game would not be apparent in a camp like this, but I guess what impresses me the most and excites me the most is the leadership role he has taken here. He has been very vocal and active with the younger players and that is impressive. Obviously, on our club in Toronto, that is something that has value."

"I'm very fortunate that I've played in one very passionate fan base and hockey market in Montreal and I think I'm going into the same situation in Toronto, where people live and die by the team and follow the players very passionately. Not too many guys get to play for two Original Six teams and I had a great time in Montreal and met a lot of great people there and now I am going to do the same thing in Toronto."
-- Mike Komisarek

And, despite a plus/minus number that must keep Komisarek up at night, he is also delivering value on the ice. His 41 hits in 16 games leads the Maple Leafs by a large margin and is in the top-30 in the League. He has also blocked 38 shots -- eight more than any other Leaf and good for No. 14 in the League.

Komisarek is bringing some of the truculence that Burke said would have to be infused into his team.

And because Komisarek is still doing the little things that coalesce to form the foundation of his meat-and-potatoes game, there is every suggestion that his season will still turn around.

Komisarek would love to see that happen. Because not only does he want to help the proud Maple Leafs organization turn around its fortunes, but he knows he will need a personal turn of fortune if he wants to be one of the seven or eight defenseman that Team USA invites to Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics in February.

"Not very often do you get a chance to represent your country, the youth hockey association, the town you come from, all the people that helped you along the way to becoming a professional hockey player; so playing in the Olympics is playing for all those small people back home," Komisarek said. "Once the season starts, your focus is on your city -- it's on the Toronto Maple Leafs. I've played in the U-18s and the World Juniors and anytime you can put on that USA crest, it is a huge honor and a privilege. It's a goal and a dream to be on that team."

Contact Shawn P. Roarke at sroarke@nhl.com
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