TORONTO - Despite his obvious and burning desire to return to active duty with the Toronto Maple Leafs, injured defenceman Mike Komisarek has conceded the possibility his season may be facing a premature conclusion heading into another appointment with medical officials on Wednesday.
The 28-year-old has been sidelined since Jan. 2 with an undisclosed upper body injury, widely reported as trouble with one of his shoulders. Komisarek has not been cleared for full contact and, despite his insistence he is "itching" to play, he knows there is a chance he has played his last game for the Leafs this year.
"I think there's a possibility that's definitely there," he said Tuesday morning. "I think if it wasn't, I'd definitely be back. But it's definitely a possibility."
Is the prospect frightening?
"I've tried not to think too much about it," he said. "If you dwell too much on something like that, you sort of lose track of the focus and what you need to be doing. I've been working hard with the strength coach, talking with our doctors a lot and doing exactly what I need to do to get back."
Komisarek is scheduled to have a stress test on Wednesday, with the Olympics looming later this month. He was named to the U.S. Olympic team the day before he was injured, and his future in the tournament becomes more questionable with each passing day.
The U.S. has already lost one defenceman, with New Jersey Devils veteran Paul Martin announcing his withdrawal on Monday. Martin, who is also 28, has been sidelined with a broken forearm since he blocked a shot in late October.
"It's an unfortunate situation for him," Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur said. "I'm sure he's really devastated about the situation that he's in."
Martin's situation is made more unfortunate by the uncertainty surrounding the NHL's involvement in the Olympics beyond the tournament in Vancouver. He, like Komisarek, could be missing out on his last chance to play at the Winter Games.
"Our first priority with Mike is, 'what are we doing to get him back to playing for the Leafs?"' said Toronto coach Ron Wilson, who is also the U.S. Olympic coach. "The Olympics is secondary."
He refused to say whether he thought Komisarek would need surgery. The defenceman visited a specialist in Alabama last month, and has missed at least two targeted return dates - once in Florida and again last weekend, a home loss to the Vancouver Canucks.
"According to what the doctor said, he had an injury that could be, in a normal way, a four-to-six week injury," Wilson said. "We're on four weeks right now. We just have to do some testing and see if rehab is working properly."
Komisarek, who collected four assists in 34 games before the injury, said the medical staff would have the final say on when, or if, he might be healthy enough to return this season. He said he resumed skating within a week of the injury, and is optimistic he will be able to return this year, citing an ability to play through pain.
"As a young player, you dream about winning the Stanley Cup, and you dream about winning a gold medal representing your country," he said. "Being a proud American hockey player, we all witnessed and watched and heard the Miracle on Ice. And this, being the 30-year anniversary, you want to be a part of that."
But, repeating what he has often said since Jan. 2, he said his primary responsibility is with the Leafs. Komisarek signed with the team as a free agent last summer, and is set to earn US$4.6-million over each of the next four seasons.
He said a decision on the Olympics would be made over the next couple of days.
"My long-term health is more important to this team than having me, for selfish reasons, play in the Olympics, as much as I want to," he said. "We have great doctors here. We have great staff that have been helping me get through this. And I just want to get in there. I don't know what to say."