With the losses of Mike Cammalleri and Mike Komisarek in the same week, the Michigan hockey team suffered two tremendous blows to its chance of winning a national championship.
“It’s a tough week,” coach Red Berenson said. “I’m disappointed in what those players are going to miss. I hope they do well in their careers, but I can’t tell you how disappointed I am that they chose to leave now.”
Both players told the Michigan coaching staff that they intended to return next season, but on Tuesday and Thursday, Komisarek and Cammalleri, respectively, chose to forego their remaining eligibility and signed pro contracts. The decisions came as a surprise to the coaching staff, which expected both players to return next season.
“We’ve provided them with a great opportunity here at Michigan and helped them to develop,” Berenson said. “You feel somewhat abandoned when they turn their back on you before they’ve fulfilled their obligation.
“And maybe they don’t sign a four-year contract and we’re not able to offer them a four-year contract, but it goes without saying that we all come here to finish up school and to have the best four years of our lives.”
This is not the first time Berenson has had to deal with players leaving early. In fact, including Komisarek and Cammalleri, Michigan has lost six players in the last four years. Despite the recent stampede of college players making the jump to pro hockey early, it is still not something Berenson sees as a positive thing.
“It still disappoints me, as much as it’s happened to me more in the last few years,” Berenson said. “Each time it happens I’m not pleased. I want to see the kids do well in their future, but I sense sometimes that things like greed and selfishness take over from some of the priorities that I would have thought were important.”
Some of Michigan’s most successful alumni, Brendan Morrison, Marty Turco, Steve Shields and John Madden all played four years for the Wolverines and according to Berenson, didn’t give consideration to leaving early. This leaves coaches and fans of college hockey to wonder why so many players are leaving now.
“It’s a changing culture, there’s something out there that is encouraging people to forget about their education, to forget about their teammates, to forget about the program that has been so good to them and forget about winning a championship,” Berenson said. “There’s something that’s changing that. Maybe it’s money, maybe it’s agents, maybe it’s pro hockey that’s coming after these players harder now than they were ten years ago. But there is definitely a changing landscape.”
The loss of the two stars also creates some drastic changes in Michigan’s roster. With the loss of Komisarek, the CCHA’s best defensive defenseman last season, the Michigan defense is down to just seven players. According to Berenson, the team would consider taking a walk-on defenseman next season if the coaching staff felt the player was capable of helping the Wolverines. It also means that the rest of the defense, including incoming freshman Danny Richmond, will be pushed to make up for the loss of Komisarek.
“I wanted to learn from (Komisarek), because his game is different than mine,” Richmond said. “He is more physical than I am, and I was looking forward to learning from him in practice. After seeing him leave, it opens a way for me.”
The loss of Cammalleri, who led Michigan with 23 goals last season, creates a big hole in the Michigan offense. It is unlikely that any one player will be able to fill that hole, and instead multiple players will have to step up and contribute. Trying to play without Cammalleri is nothing new to the Wolverines since the star forward missed much of last season with mono. Like last season, when different players stepped up during Cammalleri’s illness, Michigan will have to count on greater contributions from many of its players the offensive end.
Cammalleri’s offensive numbers from last year had some slating him as an early candidate for next season’s Hobey Baker Award. But the 5-foot-9 forward chose instead to forgo that opportunity for a chance he’s waited his whole life for.
“Leaving provided me for an opportunity to play professional hockey, something I’ve been trying to do my whole life,” Cammalleri said.
Just because professional hockey is something Cammalleri has been waiting to do his whole life, didn’t mean the decision was easy for him. With pressure from both Los Angeles and the Wolverines, Cammalleri faced one of the hardest decisions of his life.
“To go to play at Michigan wasn’t too hard of a decision,” Cammalleri said. “This decision was definitely harder, but at the same time it was something I realized I wanted to do.”
While Cammalleri may have the chance to play in the NHL next year, he could also be stuck in the minor leagues, like former Michigan great Andy Hilbert, who played along side Cammalleri. Hilbert, who also left early, thought that he would be playing for the Boston Bruins last season, but instead spent most of the year in the minor leagues.
“There’s no question that a player in college has a different perspective of what it is going to be like in pro hockey than what it is going to be like in pro hockey,” Berenson said. “But by the time you find out what’s really happening to you, it’s too late and you can’t go back.”