Here we go again.
Last Tuesday, Michigan defenseman Mike Komisarek signed a pro contract with the Montreal Canadiens, foregoing his final two years of eligibility. Thursday, forward Mike Cammalleri made the same decision, choosing the Los Angeles Kings’ money over a final season at Michigan and a chance at a national title.
But this isn’t a new thing for the program. It happens every summer now. The Michigan coaching staff probably has it marked down on its 2003 calendar – “At the end of July, at least one of our top prospects will forego his final year (or two) of eligibility.”
So why is the latest flight of Wolverines to the pros any different than the past two groups? Because Mike Van Ryn (1999), Mike Comrie (2000), Andy Hilbert and Jeff Jillson (2001), who left Michigan early during the past three summers, were not Michigan hockey captains like Cammalleri, who was an alternate captain last season.
You can bet that Cammalleri’s departure was the most shocking for Michigan coach Red Berenson, because when he chooses to put the “A” or “C” on a player’s sweater, he does it with the feeling that the player embodies what Michigan hockey is all about. And Berenson’s program is not characterized by “greed and selfishness,” but by loyalty and the quest for excellence in the classroom and on the ice. By leaving for the Kings, Cammalleri broke a trust with his coach. Wearing the “A” on his maize-and-blue jersey couldn’t overcome the chance for fame and fortune in the NHL, every kid’s dream growing up.
But make no mistake: Berenson made a good decision to name Cammalleri a captain. The All-American was more than a premier goal scorer. He was an irreplaceable leader – a guy who would speak up and not accept mediocrity from himself or his teammates. When the Wolverines stumbled out of the gate last season, it was Cammalleri who took a stand in the post-game press conference and said that his team’s performance was unacceptable.
Cammalleri was supposed to be a four-year guy – the kind of kid Berenson expected to be an example to his younger top prospects. Cammalleri staying in school would theoretically override the example set in past summers. No one ever thought that money or any other factor would lure him away from Yost before his Senior Night arrived. He even insisted after Michigan’s loss to Minnesota in the Frozen Four last season that he wanted to return for his senior season.
And that’s why this loss not only hurts, but pierces the Michigan program. The fact that a program with the tradition that Michigan offers could not keep at least one out of the two Mikes makes you wonder about the new climate in college hockey. What happened to guys like Brendan Morrison and Bill Muckalt who were talented enough to go pro but wanted something more from their college experience than a launch pad to the NHL. Morrison, who won the Hobey Baker Award in 1996 along with a national championship, still decided to stay for his senior season in 1997.
Komisarek also told Michigan coaches earlier this summer that he wanted to return for his junior season.
Yes, he may have wanted to, but was he devoted to the idea? Certainly not.
The hulking defenseman is a NHL scout’s dream, and with tons of pressure being applied by the Canadiens for him to sign, it would have taken a miracle to keep him out of Montreal.
Or maybe Hamilton, Ont., where the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate is located, would be a more appropriate location. Unlike Cammalleri, who seems to be ready physically and mentally for pro hockey, Komisarek needs more experience in the college game to be ready for the NHL.
The young talent was inconsistent last season offensively and defensively, and while garnering the CCHA’s Top Defensive Defenseman award last season, he was probably the third-most consistent blueliner on the team behind Jay Vancik and Andy Burnes.
His decision-making with the puck and in pressure situations was sometimes absurd. At two different points during the NCAA West Regional, Komisarek put the Wolverines in danger by making crucial mistakes with the puck, including his infamous throwing of the puck when the Wolverines were already down a man against Denver.
Michigan assistant coach Billy Powers said that Komisarek would most likely spend a lot of time in Hamilton, which makes his decision even harder to understand. Michigan players are choosing the minor leagues over the comforts of Ann Arbor and a chance to win championships with their teammates and friends?
Something is awry.
Does Berenson need to change the way he recruits? Maybe the Wolverines need to recruit more players like Andy Burnes and Jed Ortmeyer – guys who produce consistently and are at Michigan for the right reasons but might not have as much talent. With this changing climate in college hockey, the coaching staff might have to take a step back and adapt accordingly.
One year from now, there will be seven Wolverines who are drafted and eligible to leave the launching pad. Judging from Michigan’s current rate of success at keeping its stars from bolting (.000), the Wolverines will need quite a recruiting class for 2003-04.