Over winter break, while most Michigan students were vacationing and the hockey team was falling on hard times in the Great Lakes Invitational, Mike Cammalleri, Andy Hilbert and Mike Komisarek were in Moscow, defending their countries” honor.
Participants in the World Junior Championships, an annual tournament consisting of the best hockey players in the world under the age of 20, the three spent three weeks playing hockey in sweaters affixed with their flags, a change from the block “M” they”re used to.
Cammalleri played for Team Canada, while Hilbert and Komisarek skated with Team USA. Canada picked up the bronze medal in the tournament won by the Czech Republic. The Americans took home fifth place, falling to Cammalleri”s Canadian squad in the quarterfinals. And after three hard weeks, the three players reunited in the slightly more friendly confines of Yost Ice Arena, back in the maize and blue.
The three agreed to sit down with The Michigan Daily hockey writers and detail their memorable experience. The following are excerpts from the conversation.
PART 1 — THE TRIP
One of the major aspects of the trip to Moscow for the tournament is the setting. Before the players could discuss their experiences on the ice, they described what it was like to be in so foreign a nation.
The Michigan Daily: What were the people like over there? Were they like here pretty much?
Andy Hilbert: Not really. The mentality of the people there is totally different. You”d be waiting to go to the door and open the door and someone would just dart right in front of you. They don”t care. It”s something you have to get used to just because it was a foreign experience. It was a different foreign experience than I”ve ever had. I think it was a good experience.
TMD: How were the fans there? You said there weren”t a lot of fans, and obviously most of them were supporting the Russians.
Mike Cammalleri: We played Russia one game and there were big fans there for the Russia game. It got pretty crazy in there. Other than that, the fan support wasn”t great because I guess tickets were a little pricey. I guess the economy right now isn”t very strong. They didn”t have the money to get to a lot of the games.
You had to pretty much create your own energy. That”s different from what we”re used to because we play in the greatest atmosphere for hockey in the world at Yost.
Mike Komisarek: When we first got off the plane, looking out the window, you”d just see guys walking on the wings of the planes, shoveling the snow off the roof of the planes. It”s such a different world out there.
TMD: When you guys were gone, (Michigan hockey coach Red) Berenson was telling us that what he was hearing was that you guys weren”t very happy. Particularly you, Mike (Komisarek), he was saying that you were pretty unhappy. Talk about that.
Komisarek: You”re faced with a lot of adversity. Just the conditions that you”re living in and playing with. You”re so used to the way that you have things here and then you go there and it”s totally a different world the food, the way of life over there.
The food is terrible and my bed was really short and my feet would hang off and it”s hard to fall asleep at night with the time adjustment and all that. On top of that, you”re playing in one of the top tournaments in the world at the 20-year-old age level.
It”s just a thing that we have to deal with and an advantage that the other teams had over us.
TMD: What was the hotel like? I hear it was kind of like an antique type of hotel. You”re probably not going to find a game room there.
Komisarek: It was a castle.
Hilbert: From what I hear, during World War II, Germans were bombing Moscow so Stalin brought a bunch of German tradesmen and builders to the hotel and he wouldn”t let them go back to Germany unless they built the hotel, so they built this 2,000-room hotel, and it”s a beautiful hotel.
It just hasn”t been touched since 1952 or whatever. The place wasn”t that bad.
Komisarek: In “52, it would have been great.
Hilbert: Back in the mid-1900″s, it would have been a great place to stay. The rooms were huge, everything was a good size. They had the Internet on one of the floors.
There were things to do, but just the rooms hadn”t been touched, you could tell, forever. It was an experience to have because it was such a beautiful place to stay.
Cammalleri: Beautiful place to stay? I wouldn”t put it in those words.
From the outside, it looks like a nice castle and everything, but once you get in there, you”re just like “wow.”
Hilbert: That”s what I said, it hasn”t been touched.
Komisarek: I guess with the people over there, it”s supposed to be unreal. It was sort of spooky and creepy.
Cammalleri: Did you guys ever got to the top floor?
I can”t remember what number it was. It was like the top floor in the hotel. It was built like a castle it has these shafts and there was this one elevator that could take you to the top, top, top floor.
One time one of the guys was up there, and he was like, “Oh my god.”
He came down and he was like, “You guys have to go up there.” And he had us all scared of what could be up there.
We went up there and it was the scariest thing. It was the top floor and there was just the roof and all glass windows and stuff.
It was nighttime and the windows were blowing in and out, so all you”d hear was loud wind blowing. They were all two-way mirrors. And then there were stairs going up to another level. And you looked out there and it was the scariest thing ever.
PART II — The Memories
If not for the experiences gathered along the way, this would just be another tournament.
Moscow offered the players opportunities to do a number of things one of the most memorable being a visit to the site of the famous Summit Series, an eight-game matchup between Canada and the Soviet Union in 1972.
The Michigan Daily: As well as you can, just from start to finish, talk about the experience.
Hilbert: We were playing the Czech Republic it was probably our biggest game of the round-robin tournament and they gave us wake-up calls at like 3:30 a.m. Our entire team woke up and some guys couldn”t go back to sleep but some guys could.
They were just trying to make it tougher on you and it was already tough.
Cammalleri: We had to move rinks to play after our round-robin to go play against the U.S. and then we had to go back to play at the other rink again. That night after the U.S. game we brought our equipment back because we were supposed to have a lockerroom at the other rink, and the Slovaks, who had already lost out of the tournament, were still in that lockerroom they didn”t clear their stuff out even though they were supposed to for us.
So we had to go through a whole thing yelling at a bunch of Russians even though they wouldn”t let us in the building. It was a big mess and then our coach got so mad that he went to the hotel, woke the Slovaks up out of bed and made them get on our bus, go back to the rink, take all their equipment and move it to another room so we could move all of our equipment.
TMD: What was your Christmas like? I know you got some gag gifts.
Cammalleri: They got me a clothing set for a Ken doll because it has really small clothes. They were all in Michigan colors they were maize and blue so that was pretty funny. There were funny gag gifts. Some were adult related and I can”t really bring that up right now, but there were some funny gag gifts for sure.
Hilbert: Everyone had to bring a shirt from the team they played for and they”d bring a $20 gift and we”d exchange. Some people just got terrible gifts. I know one gift was an “N Sync doll.
Komisarek: We had to bring the t-shirts and our equipment manager gave us these double-XL bright-yellow Michigan hockey shirts. And no one wanted them, so everyone was hoping not to get the Michigan hockey shirt.
One of the guys got one and one of the coaches, so I guess they were pretty disappointed.
TMD: You got to go to the arena where the Summit Series happened, right?
Cammalleri: It”s called Luznyki, and they built a new Luznyki, which is the one that we played at. We got to see the old Luznyki where that all happened. That was an incredible experience for us, the whole Canada-Russia thing because that series was just huge. It”s been a big part of Canadian culture ever since.
The ice was out, but I was standing in the spot where Paul Henderson scored the goal and we took pictures and stuff like that. That was a really great experience.
TMD: I know you weren”t born then, but do you have a special appreciation for that series?
Cammalleri: I do. From stories from my parents, I watched it all. I can”t even explain to you you wouldn”t understand how big a part of the Canadian culture that series was.
My dad and my mom, the high schools they were in, all the high schools in Canada shut down, and you could either go home and watch the game or they”d have TVs all set up in the cafeterias. Universities all closed down. All the big companies shut everything down for the games. Time stopped for that series.
TMD: Twenty years from now, when you guys are looking back on the tournament, what will you remember?
Cammalleri: (laughing) Winning the quarterfinal game.
Hilbert: You”ll remember the stupid stuff that you did as a team. You”re together for three-and-a-half weeks. You”re going to remember so many things.
Hockey”s probably going to be secondary, I would think. It”s just going to be the closeness of the team, how close you were. You have friends on the team that you”re going to keep playing with, hopefully all the way up.
You make friends on that team for life, and that”s probably what I”m going to take away from the tournament.
Komisarek: Despite the living conditions and all of the adversity you face, you”re together for three weeks and you have to get along with your teammates. The thing that I”ll remember most is just spending time with each other and how everyone just seemed to gel on our team and everyone just enjoyed each other”s company and made the best of it.
You just accept the fact that you”re in Russia and you haven”t seen the sun in a month and all the other things I said before. You just make the most of the situation and just try to have fun.
Cammalleri: Twenty years from now, you”ll definitely remember the friends you made and the experiences you had, whether on the ice or off the ice.
But definitely being off the ice and seeing Russia and seeing the hardships that people go through over there. That stuff kind of sticks to you forever and really helps you realize what we have over seas. I think I”ll remember that.
PART III — The Hockey
But it would be foolish to discuss the trip without talking about the hockey. The tournament provided some incredible matchups, including the quarterfinal game between Team USA and Team Canada, won by Canada 2-1.
The Michigan Daily: The Canadian coach said: “Hockey is one of the few things we Canadians can stand up on the world stage and bump our chests about.” Is that true?
Cammalleri: That”s a big thing and that”s a big motivational factor for Canadians. Canadians really believe that hockey is Canada and Canada is hockey. There”s a romantic feeling about playing for your country it”s something that you dream about for your whole life.
Everyone in Canada supports it incredibly. I think the ratings were around 1.4 million for one of our games in Canada. It was, as far as TV ratings go in Canada, the Super Bowl, and then that tournament.
I remember guys saying stuff in the lockerroom before we were going to play the Americans. Stuff like, “They get to win in everything else. We”ve got to be able to win in this.”
TMD: How was the hockey different?
Cammalleri: Europeans usually play more of a trap style of hockey. With the Canadian team we played like we do with Michigan forecheck hard, skate hard, go hard. That”s not how the European game is played. They really set up defensively and let the play come to them and they try to really capitalize on turnovers.
The hockey was a little bit different. The Olympic ice surface was a difference. I know it”s something that we kind of got used to playing a couple of games against WCHA teams, but the hockey is a little bit different.
The bottom line is, there”s still two nets, two blue lines, what is it, two goal lines? (laughing) One puck
Hilbert: One red line.
Cammalleri: One red line. You”re just trying to score goals and keep them out of your own net. That”s how it works.
TMD: So it wasn”t hard to adjust at all to their style?
Cammalleri: They did a good job helping us, taught us what to do. We watched some videotapes so that helps you out.
Komisarek: It”s so much more finesse. There”s not that much hitting going on with all of the trapping in the neutral zone. It sort of slows down the game and it”s a little more boring to watch. It”s not as exciting with the big hits.
Cammalleri: Komo doesn”t get to kill anybody.
Komisarek: It”s a different type of game, and then with the big ice surface, you have a little more time with the puck, and a little more time to make plays.
With the forechecking, you go back, but the other team dumps the puck, and usually in college hockey or the CCHA, you”d expect to get hit. But they dump it in and they just wait for you at the red line or your blue line, just waiting for you to come toward them and attack them.
TMD: Talk about the Canada-USA matchup.
Cammalleri: It”s something that I almost don”t even want to bring up any more because we”re back here at Michigan and we”re teammates and close friends over here, all three of us. I know it”s something that I don”t really want to talk about too much because right now our goals are focused on Michigan and winning here.
(laughing) But you know, I”ve got to tell you, there”s a smile that I can always have that they can”t. To be honest with you, I have this medal in my room and they don”t have one. That”s the bottom line.
Hilbert: I guess the game was pretty evenly matched and we outshot them
Hilbert: Not barely.
Komisarek: They got a couple of lucky bounces here and there.
Hilbert: We scored on our first shot, which was a huge goal for us. And after that, we hit the crossbar one time
Cammalleri: I think that was Andy Hilbert who hit the crossbar.
Hilbert: It could have put the game out of reach because two goals in the first period is really tough to overcome in international competition.
We shot ourselves in the foot in the end. We took a lot of stupid penalties in the third period and they finally capitalized on the fifth power play.
Komisarek: I just wonder if the refs were Canadian.
Cammalleri: They weren”t, by the way, and we had just as bad reffing, all right, Komo?
TMD: How were the refs? Pretty fair?
Hilbert: Nope, it”s terrible. I think it”s pretty much terrible for every team there.
I don”t know about Mike, but I”m sure they were a lot more prejudiced toward North American hockey, just because there”s different rules over there and we aren”t used to those rules.
The refs call it different and you have to adjust to that because teams over there, if you let their power play be out there too much, they”re going to burn you because every single guy out there is the best player from his country. That”s what happened when we played Team Canada.
TMD: When you say terrible, do you mean inconsistent or lopsided?
Cammalleri: Sometimes if you could get a Canadian referee or they could get a U.S. referee, it would just be more your style that you”re used to. But they call penalties that you wouldn”t think that they would call.
Stick penalties are huge over there. Hooking, holding, anything like that, they call, but if you blatantly pick someone that doesn”t have the puck and knock them down, they won”t call it.
It”s a different style of reffing, just like it”s a different style of hockey.
TMD: As it happened, when you (Hilbert and Komisarek) saw him (Cammalleri) in the corner, did you try to get him on purpose?
Komisarek: We didn”t want to hurt the kid
Cammalleri: (laughing) Oh!
Komisarek: I knew we were coming back here and we”re looking forward to the end of this year and playing in the NCAA tournament. We really have high goals here and these guys are both good players.
He”s one of the top guys on our team.
Cammalleri: You didn”t want to hurt me, eh, Komo?
It was a good game. It was a lot of fun to play in. It was that kind of game, with a lot of competitiveness. For us, we got down one goal, like they said, and that was big for them. But we stepped up some character and we stuck in there all game.
If they want to call it lucky, hey, that”s fine. I”m glad we were lucky, let”s put it that way.
TMD: Do they like hockey as much as Canadians?
Cammalleri: No. Nobody loves hockey as much as Canadians do. That was a bad question.
TMD: Did they ever follow through on that bet?
Cammalleri: They haven”t really followed through on their bet. They were all gung-ho to make this bet
Komisarek: I wasn”t
Cammalleri: Now they”re all “bah-bah-bah-bah.”
I”m like, “you know what? That”s fine. If you don”t want to follow through on a bet”