It’s hard to miss Montreal Canadiens defenceman Mike Komisarek.
But then again, missing him isn’t so much the problem as it is trying to make him miss you.
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound mound of muscle patrolling the blue-line for the bleu blanc et rouge at their main camp in Vail, Col. is a formidable force for his opponents to take heed of. Though he isn’t about to alienate any teammates by attempting to take their heads off in camp, Komisarek used his strength and surprising mobility to make a name for himself at the team’s rookie tournament in Hull, Que., and is assured of putting in the same kind of work in his exhibition appearances.
“I think I’m more of a pro-style player,” says the 20-year-old, getting set for his first taste of the professional game after signing a contract and exiting early from the University of Michigan. “I’m physical and I use my body, my size and my strength every chance I have.”
For a player like Komisarek, life’s little pleasures don’t get much better than the opportunity to put a licking on an opponent.
“There’s no better feeling than knocking a guy down and, I guess, standing over him a little bit,” he says. “Sometimes in a game, it can change the momentum and get a spark under your team.”
It’s not unusual for opposing forwards to think of Komisarek as a lumbering giant and attempt to carry the puck around him to the outside, he says. But those players find out with a thud that his mobility is another of his strengths.
“Guys are always going to be challenging me out there,” he says. “They’re probably thinking, ‘This is a big guy. He’s probably not too quick or doesn’t move his feet well,’ and you just try to prove ‘em wrong when they try to go outside.
“I think for a big guy that I move pretty well out there. It’s one of those things I’ve worked on ever since I was a little kid.”
That physical, competitive style of game is exactly what Komisarek brings to the table at the Habs camp. It’s also what he’s hoping will allow him to earn a spot on the team’s roster.
“I’m not going to get my praise and glory from scoring goals,” he says. “I get satisfaction from playing solid defensively and never getting beat one-on-one.
“You can’t come here scared and not confident or you won’t be successful. You have to take advantage of the opportunity.”
So far, he’s made good first impressions with the right people. The only question is whether it will be enough to help him make the jump from college hockey to the pros.
Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien got his first taste of Komisarek’s play at the rookie tournament in Hull, where Komisarek assumed the captaincy of the team and displayed a rugged style capped by a couple fights. Therrien’s early impressions of his young blue-liner were nothing but positive.
“We’re happy with what we’ve seen from him,” he says. “I think this is a good opportunity for him to go through the practices and get a chance to play. He’s just got to keep improving.”
His opponents were also forced to take notice.
Sean Connolly, a defenceman in the Ottawa Senators organization and a rival of Komisarek’s at Nothern Michigan University, has seen a lot of the Canadiens prospect over the past two years. He says Komisarek is the kind of player that will garner the attention of opposing forwards.
“Oh yeah, he’s thrown some big hits,” says Connolly. “You know he’s out there when you’re on the ice. You try to be aware of bigger guys; you know their numbers and to keep your head up.
“He’s a great player, a big kid, plays physical and he’s pretty good with the puck too for a big guy.”
Komisarek was the highest scoring defencemen in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, registering 11 goals and 30 points in 40 games. He also managed to tally 70 penalty minutes and earned the CCHA’s Best Defensive Defenseman Award. But after two years in college, Komisarek thinks he’s ready to give the pro game a try.
“It was a tough choice (to leave college), but this is what I’ve been working for my whole life,” he says. “This is something I thought I was ready to do, step up and accept the challenge. It was tough but I haven’t looked back since.”
The Canadiens already have a wealth of veteran defencemen vying for spots on the back-end and trying to earn regular duty in camp. Though the recent absence of physical blue-liner Sheldon Souray due to wrist surgery would appear to open up a spot, Komisarek plays the opposite side and is still a year behind in development to fellow highly-touted rookie Ron Hainsey, who spent the past season honing his game in the AHL.
Komisarek knows he’s in tough for a spot on the opening-day roster, but that’s not going to get him to dwell on the numbers game.
“I’m trying not to look too far ahead, because if I start looking too far ahead, you lose focus of the present,” he says “The only thing I can control is how hard I work and the rest is up to the coaches.
“There’s such an adjustment from the college game to the pro game and very few defencemen jump straight from college to the NHL. But my goal is to make the big team come the start of the season.”
Komisarek will face many hurdles to reach his goal this season, but one would be hard-pressed to find someone willing to stand in his path of reaching it.