Some people were simply born to deliver bone-crushing hits. Michigan defenseman Mike Komisarek is one of those special people.
“I was always a rough-natured kid,” Komisarek said with a bright boyish grin that stands in stark contrast to his on-ice persona.
But the “rough-natured” Komisarek was not the typical “Give me your lunch money or face the music” bully in school.
His main problem was that he didn”t realize his own strength.
“Lots of times, I”d give a friend a pat on the back, then he”d say “ouch, man,” and flop forward,” the 6-foot-4 242-pounder said with a laugh.
It was clear that Komisarek needed to find an activity that would utilize his size more effectively.
As the son of Polish immigrants, Komisarek grew up playing a variety of sports in the Long Island, N.Y. community of Islip Terrace.
Then, at age 10, he found his true calling.
“Ever since I started to play hockey I have enjoyed the physical nature of it,” Komisarek said. “I played soccer, baseball and basketball, but there just wasn”t enough physical contact there.”
Despite his relatively late introduction to the sport, Komisarek was hooked after his first big hit.
“It”s a great feeling,” he said. “Being a big guy that is something I have to do. Sometimes in practice the coaches have to tell me to tone it down you don”t want to hurt anybody. But that is just my game I have to use my size.
“A lot of times you need to work to not think about the big hit. You need to maintain containment. Then when the opportunity presents itself you have to finish the guy off.”
In addition to the physicality inherent in the sport, Komisarek also enjoyed the finesse and speed with which the game is played.
“The game involves so much skill shooting, skating, passing then you add the contact,” he said. “It was a great deal for me, and it still is.”
As Komisarek learned to handle his size, he quickly made the transition from big kid to top prospect.
“The kid has just been tremendous from day one,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “He”s been better than I thought he”d be at this level. For his size, his lateral movement and agility is excellent, he plays one-on-ones as well as anyone.
“He passes the puck like a pro and shoots like a pro, I mean the kid has really got it together. He just gets better and better.”
After five seasons of playing for his high school and in a local minor league, Komisarek traveled to Connecticut to join the Eastern Junior Hockey League before being recruited by USA Hockey.
The Plymouth Whalers of the OHL drafted the baby-faced giant in 1999.
But despite his rise to No. 39 overall in the NHL Central Scouting rankings, Komisarek decided to accept a full scholarship from Michigan.
After a season traveling with the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 Team, the Long Island native arrived in Ann Arbor.
During his first season, Komisarek was an immediate impact player for the Wolverines. He finished second among the team”s defensemen in scoring, posting 16 points on four goals and twelve assists.
His 77 penalty minutes were also second on the team, behind senior Scott Matzka”s 100.
He was named to the CCHA All-Rookie Team. But Komisarek was far from content.
“I don”t think that I have accomplished anything yet,” Komisarek said. “I have a long way to go, I have a lot to learn from coach Berenson. Right now, I am just a student of the game.”
His freshman year studies took him to the national semifinals, and now he is hungrier than ever.
“I got a taste of the Frozen Four last year,” Komisarek said. “And I just want it that much more this year. I think we have a great opportunity to do something special this year.”
Komisarek followed last year”s breakout season with an equally eventful summer.
In late June, the NHL Draft took place in Miami, Fla., and the media spotlight fell squarely on the Michigan defenseman.
The Montreal Canadiens selected Komisarek with the No. 7 pick, making him the first American, the first defenseman, and the first collegiate player selected.
Only one Michigan player, former Detroit Red Wings defenseman Aaron Ward, had ever been selected higher than Komisarek.
“The summer was a life-long dream of mine,” he said. “It was a great experience for me. Going on the stage putting on the jersey and the hat you can”t put a price on that.”
But Komisarek is no longer caught up in NHL dreams.
“I can”t look two or three years in the future,” he said. “I can”t just live with my successes from last season. I”ve got to just take things a year at a time.”
Komisarek has not spoken to anyone in Montreal since draft day.
But the Wolverines” top defender may still miss time this season.
It is quite possible that the U.S. Junior National Team could call on him again this time for the World Championships in Prague, Czech Republic.
“We basically just concentrate on what we have to do here (at Michigan),” Komisarek said. “Then if we make the team they give us a call, we take our exams early and we”re off.”
Komisarek, along with former Michigan forward Andy Hilbert, helped the U.S. to a fifth-place finish in Moscow last year.
“Anytime you put on that U.S. sweater, it”s a tremendous feeling,” Komisarek said. “You get a rush going through your body. There are thousands of kids that would love to wear that jersey. You need to play hard for them and your country.”
If the call comes for Komisarek again this year, he would most likely miss the Great Lakes Invitational, where the Wolverines could face two other Frozen Four teams from a year ago Michigan State and North Dakota.
But make no mistake, Komisarek is committed to the success of Michigan hockey.
“Defense is going to win games for us,” Komisarek said with an unusually serious tone. “You don”t play defense and it”s all over. It starts with (goalie Josh) Blackburn and it starts with the defense.”
Height 6″ 4″
Weight 242 lbs.
Gr. Sophomore Pos. Defenseman
From the Coach:
“The kid has just been tremendous from day one. He”s been better than I thought he”d be at this level. For his size, his lateral movement and agility is excellent, he plays one-on-one”s as well as anyone. He passes the puck like a pro and shoots like a pro, I mean the kid has really got it together. He just gets better and better.”
head coach Red Berenson