|After just two games, Mike Comrie already feels right at home again with the Ottawa Senators and head coach Cory Clouston (Photo by Jana Chytllova/NHLI via Getty Images).
Mike Comrie doesn’t have to look far to notice some rather obvious reminders.
A quick glance to the right and he sees Mike Fisher, Daniel Alfredsson
, Dany Heatley and Chris Phillips
– four Ottawa Senators veterans with whom he shared the greatest of rides to the Stanley Cup final two years ago.
While times have surely changed since then, the feeling was pretty much the same for Comrie when he walked back into the Senators dressing room at Scotiabank Place earlier this week.
“It’s a great place to play hockey,” he said about the city he now calls home for a second time after last week’s trade with the New York Islanders, which brought Comrie and defenceman Chris Campoli to the Senators. “There’s a lot of familiar faces and guys that I know. It’s a very skilled group of hockey players.”
There was also no stifling a wide grin after Comrie's first-period goal helped the Senators to a 4-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night at Scotiabank Place. As he moved toward a large group of reporters after the game, the glee in his voice was obvious.
"It's been so long," he said with a knowing tone that suggested he is very much aware that he's back where hockey matters so much.
But the sense of familiarity runs even deeper for Comrie, a mid-season trade acquisition in 2006-07 when he suited up for the Senators the first time. Behind the bench is head coach Cory Clouston, whose association with Comrie goes back to his minor hockey days. There is a definite and lengthy connection between these two Alberta boys.
“Mike probably doesn’t even remember, but I taught him at a hockey school for about three years in a row (starting when) he was seven years old,” Clouston said in recalling the first time he crossed paths with Comrie. “I’ve known Mike for quite a few years. I know his father (Bill, who owns The Brick furniture store chain) as well.”
Judging by the glint in his eye and the grin on his face, the now 28-year-old Comrie hasn’t forgotten those old hockey school days, either.
“It’s funny,” he said. “(Clouston) has been around Alberta and it seems like hockey is such a small world. He had been coaching in junior for a few months when I played in the Western Hockey League. It’s (come) full circle, now that I’m back here in the NHL, and it’s great to see the success that he’s had as a coach.
“From what I know, the guys here are excited to play for him and it’s nice to see that I’m back in Ottawa.”
Clouston was an assistant coach with the WHL’s Kootenay Ice back in the 2000-01 season when he first joined forces with Comrie. He came to the Ice after playing for two years at the University of Michigan and racked up 79 points in 37 games. But Comrie’s time with Kootenay ended before the playoffs when he signed a contract with his hometown Edmonton Oilers.
“He came out of college and had an unbelievable first half of the season for us,” said Clouston. “We were disappointed when he signed with Edmonton, but we understand why he did that. (Comrie) was a huge part of our team. When he first came to us, everyone was talking Memorial Cup. The previous season, we had been to the Memorial Cup and when we added him, we looked unstoppable.”
The Ice tried to fill the void by trading for another 20-year-old player but, Clouston said, “we couldn’t find our rhythm again.” The grin on his face makes it clear Clouston is happy to have Comrie on his side once again.
"(Clouston) has been around Alberta and it seems like hockey is such a small world. He had been coaching in junior for a few months when I played in the Western Hockey League. It’s (come) full circle, now that I’m back here in the NHL, and it’s great to see the success that he’s had as a coach." - Mike Comrie
“He’s a very good player. Fun to coach,” said Clouston.
For his part, Comrie welcomes the chance to play in a Canadian hockey market again. In the midst of the kind of media scrum that is all but foreign on Long Island, he is reminded once more that he is indeed back in hockey country. Comrie smiles easily about it all, even when the talk briefly shifts to Hilary Duff, the pop star and actress he’s been dating for almost two years.
“I’m sure she’ll enjoy watching hockey in Ottawa,” said Comrie. “I’ve explained to her how important hockey is in Canada and she knows that.”
He hopes to give her plenty more chances to share the sentiment in the future. Comrie is an unrestricted free agent after this season, but both he and Senators general manager Bryan Murray have expressed an interest in extending his time in Senators colours.
“It’s a place that I enjoy playing in,” said Comrie. “We’ll have those conversations (in the future) but our main focus right now is to win hockey games and stay competitive. You’ve got to worry about that first but when the time comes, I’m sure we’ll talk.”