Mike Komisarek with his father, Roman, at the June 30 Poland-Brazil FIFA Under-20 World Cup soccer game at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.
Courtesy Lindsay Rosen
I found Canadiens defenceman Mike Komisarek in Connecticut on Friday afternoon, just off the golf course and a few hours before he’d attend the wedding of an old friend.
We covered plenty of ground in a half-hour chat: he’d been “adopted” six days earlier at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium by wildly enthusiastic Polish soccer supporters, and wearing a Polska jersey given to him by a fan (he’s going to get the guy Canadiens tickets), Komisarek cheered on the team of his parents’ homeland, Poland stunning Brazil 1-0 in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup tournament.
The 25-year-old native of Long Island, N.Y., was back home for the Fourth of July, in Connecticut for the wedding, is back to fitness training beginning today with his friend Christopher Higgins, and returns to Montreal this Saturday to speak to the Canadiens’ 24 development-camp players, including last month’s first-round selections Ryan McDonagh and Max Pacioretty and many other draftees.
Setting the town ablaze after Poland’s big win: Komisarek and his girlfriend, Lindsay Rosen, clown around at a Montreal fire truck parked downtown.
Two stories on Komisarek follow. But first:
Video of his first two NHL goals.
Here are six audio excerpts from our telephone conversation:
1. On returning to offseason training earlier this season than last;
2. On the strategy of his off-ice work, and what it’s meant to achieve;
3. On how his contract signing was “bittersweet,” given that the playoffs were still ongoing and he’d have loved to still be playing, and how the club has faith in GM Bob Gainey’s efforts to build a winner;
4. On free agents skating around Montreal, and how he sees playing in this city;
5. On incoming defenceman Roman Hamrlik, this offseason’s big-name free-agent signing by the Canadiens;
6. And finally, how exciting he’ll find it to see eager, young faces from Hamilton in training camp.
Komisarek’s girlfriend, Lindsay, graciously sent along all the digital photos here which she shot the weekend before last, from the Under-20 soccer game and the jazz festival. Montreal knows how to throw a summertime party like no one else, and Komisarek seemed to enjoy every minute of his visit.
It was great fun catching up with this important and popular Canadien, a player who’s a key to the club’s future. We hope you enjoy the results.
Komisarek cheers on who would be the upset winner over Brazil.
“Craziness,” is how Canadiens defenceman Mike Komisarek described the experience, and it was that and much more for a born-and-bred New Yorker in his adopted city of Montreal, wearing the jersey and waving the red and white flag of his parents’ native Poland.
Nine days ago, Komisarek was among the estimated 40,000 fans at Olympic Stadium for Poland’s stunning 1-0 soccer victory over Brazil, an opening-weekend game in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup tournament.
With his girlfriend, Montrealer Lindsay Rosen, and his father up from Long Island with a few pals, Komisarek arrived at the Big O with a T-shirt over his proud Polish heart, unsure what awaited him in the stadium.
Madness, as it turned out.
“By the end of the game, I was wearing a jersey and waving a flag, people just giving me this stuff off their backs,” Komisarek said, still amazed. “We were taking pictures, I was signing autographs. My dad was overwhelmed, he couldn’t believe it.”
Roman Komisarek’s 25-year-old son is a hockey star in this town. He’s a huge favourite of Montreal’s Polish community.
But quicker than you can say Grzegorz Krychowiak, who scored the game’s lone goal, Komisarek’s hero status soared higher still in a Polska cheering section, where fans enveloped him and, for a few hours at least, made him one of their own.
“Definitely a memorable day, it was pretty cool,” Komisarek said of the experience. “And we beat Brazil, which is amazing.
“A guy from a Polish family just gave me his jersey. I got his phone number and told him I’d get him a couple of Canadiens tickets. The next thing I knew, I had a flag, too. Pretty neat.”
It would be just one highlight in a long weekend of them for Komisarek, who breezed through Montreal for a taste of a summer festival like none other.
BACK TO MONTREAL SATURDAY FOR DEVELOPMENT CAMP
He arrived on Friday, took in the soccer and some downtown jazz on Saturday, lazed about on Sunday then spent seven hours Monday on Pierrefonds ice with his coach, Guy Carbonneau, teammate Guillaume Latendresse and a flock of youngsters at the Canadiens’ first summer hockey camp for children.
Komisarek will be back in town Saturday with somewhat older kids, sharing thoughts of his career with the Canadiens’ 24 development-camp players.
They’ll hear inspiring words from a modest young man not much their senior who was Montreal’s first entry-draft selection in 2001, seventh overall.
The veteran of 220 NHL games through four seasons, he blossomed into a durable, excellent talent on the Montreal blue line this past season, enjoying his most productive year with four goals and 15 assists, appearing in all 82 games. Komisarek used his 242 pounds to crushing advantage, his 248 hits ranked second-best among NHL defencemen.
In June, he signed a two-year, $3.4-million contract with the Canadiens, a to-the-dollar deal inked the same day by his good friend, forward Christopher Higgins. It was nice, bankable recognition from a club that sees him as an important part of its future, but Komisarek saw the deal as “bittersweet,” sitting at home as hockey continued.
“I’ve had a taste of the playoffs, and once you have it, you want it again,” he said. “There’s one winner at the end of the season and for everyone else, basically, the season is a failure.
“Bob (GM Gainey) and the management have a game plan. They’ve built championship teams and been part of them on the ice. We all have faith and trust in Bob and I think we’re headed in the right direction. There are positives that came from this year, but we still came up short. We know we have to do better next year.”
Komisarek says that he and Higgins thrive on the hockey fishbowl that is Montreal, one which sends most free agents skating the other way. The defenceman has heard the boos aimed his way, and yet…
‘THE FANS TREAT US LIKE GOLD’
“(Higgins and I) love where we’re at. We love the city and the fans,” he said. “It’s a great place to play hockey. Some guys can’t handle it with the media and people being on top of you. But really, there’s no better place to play. It’s where we started our careers and where we want to be.
“The fans treat us like gold. You’re recognized throughout the city and people are happy to shake your hand no matter what. They’re always coming up to me and wishing me luck.
“People just want you to win. This is a storied franchise and they’ve had a lot of success. Fans expect you to go out there and battle and compete every night.”
It will be a new dressing room come September. A half-dozen or more players from last year’s club will be gone; some young and other weathered faces will now be in their stalls.
Calgary’s Eric Nystrom, a good friend of Komisarek, says only positive things about incoming defenceman Roman Hamrlik, predicting the former Flame will be an asset to the Canadiens on and off the rink.
“It’s not only about the skill you have on the ice,” said Komisarek, admitting he’ll miss the leadership and steadying presence of Sheldon Souray, who seems on his way elsewhere.
“From my first year until now, we’ve become more of a team in the locker room. From the coaching staff on, we’re trying to establish a family-type feel in the dressing room – the closer we are, the better we’ll do on the ice. (Management) are doing things, making moves to make us better and more competitive.”
Another year older, another season wiser, the Canadiens will look to Komisarek to pick up where he left off. He’ll look around at training camp and in the farm-fresh, job-hunting faces up from Hamilton, he’ll see himself from not long ago.
“I’ve been the guy who was never the most talented, but who worked his butt off and learned as much as I could,” he said. “It’s amazing how much a little talent and lot of hard work will get you. Hopefully, I can pass this along to those guys.”
Komisarek with his father, Roman, and the three New York friends (one’s hidden from view) with whom Roman drove north to take in the game.
KOMISAREK ALREADY DEEP INTO PREPARATIONS FOR 2007-08
Gruelling fitness program aimed at delivering defenceman to camp in peak shape
A professional hockey player knows never to tamper with the routine that produced the best season of his career. But he also knows there’s nothing wrong with tweaking it, looking for every tiny edge that might make him a little sharper still.
This is how Canadiens defenceman Mike Komisarek is approaching his so-called offseason, already deep into a regime that he expects will deliver him to September’s training camp in the best shape of his life.
Komisarek and teammate Christopher Higgins, a fellow New York native, have been hard at it since May 15, again working with trainer Jon DiFlorio at Institute 3E. The renowned centre in Huntington, N.Y., fine tunes the body and mind through exercise, education and empowerment (its three Es).
DiFlorio, in concert with Canadiens strength and conditioning co-ordinator Scott Livingston, took Komisarek and Higgins to new levels of performance last season; Higgins would have been better still had he not been sidelined 18 games with an ankle injury and two more with the flu.
A self-portrait of Komisarek at dinner in Montreal last Saturday, after Poland’s big soccer win, with his girlfriend, Lindsay Rosen.
“We actually have this week off,” Komisarek said brightly last Friday, in Connecticut for a friend’s wedding. “Then we’re going six or seven weeks right into training camp. It’s an exciting time. Summer’s flying by.”
Komisarek and Higgins raised more than one cynical eyebrow last autumn when they explained their 2006 summer routine had included yoga and meditation. It wasn’t easy to imagine Komisarek, 6-foot-4 and a bruising 242 pounds, seeking a state of well-stretched bliss in which he might discover his centre.
But then he went out and had the best season of his four-year Canadiens career, playing a punishing style that led to lifetime bests in games played (82), goals (four), assists (15) and points (19).
Livingston does a post-season assessment of every Canadien, evaluating their condition and developing off-ice work to address weaknesses and build on strengths, his guidance contained in a thick manual.
DiFlorio has that information on hand when he tailors workouts for his Canadien clients.
“It’s all about building your body up,” Komisarek said. “The intensity of the season is so high, the schedule is so tough with the travel.
“Our trainer’s mentality is all about building us up, preparing us so we don’t go into camp exhausted. He wants us refreshed and rejuvenated and excited to take on the challenge.
“I’m learning so many things from him and about myself, constantly improving. The second you think you’ve made it and think you’re there, you’ll get yourself into trouble. There are always guys looking for that extra edge and advantage. You see these young guys coming up…”
So Komisarek and Higgins began their workouts this spring a little earlier than usual, training for nearly seven weeks before last week’s time off.
“Jon didn’t want us touching weights or doing much of anything,” Komisarek said. “We’ve skated a couple of times and he frowned even upon that. But starting (this) week, we’ll work straight into camp.”
The program, he said, would involve 90 minutes of Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning running, speed and agility work and afternoon weight workouts, and yoga, meditation, acupuncture and more conditioning on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
And a close eye on diet. Komisarek says he won’t any time soon be a contestant in Coney Island’s Fourth of July hot-dog eating contest, won this year by American Joey Chestnut, who inhaled a world-record 66 franks and buns in 12 minutes.
“You could put a massive steak in front of me and I’d find a way to finish it,” Komisarek said. “But hog dogs? Just watching that on TV makes me nauseous.
“I knew something was up this year when I read (defending champion Takeru) Kobayashi saying he had arthritis of the jaw and was ‘questionable’ after his world record had been broken (by Chestnut in a qualifier).”
Komisarek saw right through the phantom upper-body playoff injury of Kobayashi, who managed to stuff in a personal-best 63 dogs and buns and still lose.
“Isn’t that classic?” he said of the ploy. “I think about all the stuff I go through during the year. I can’t even walk at the end of the season. And he can’t eat? I thought that was hysterical.”
Engrossed in the game with his father and his dad’s friends.