ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan forward Mike Comrie, a Hobey Baker Award finalist and the team’s leading scorer last season, will not return for his final two seasons as a Wolverine, according to the University of Michigan Athletic Department.
Comrie, instead, becomes the latest player to take advantage of a recent arbitrator’s decision, granting free agency from their drafted teams after two years, if they leave school. Comrie will join the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League this fall.
It was Michigan’s Mike Van Ryn who started the ball rolling, leaving the Wolverine program after the 1999-2000 season for Major Juniors. The New Jersey Devils said they maintained Van Ryn’s rights, but the case went to an arbitrator before Van Ryn was declared a free agent.
“Mike [Comrie] called yesterday, and we talked last week. From this, I could sense he was torn as to what to do,” said Berenson. “However, he has made the decision to play the free-agent game.
In the past, NHL teams retained the rights to college players until the graduation year. Other drafted players, such as those playing in Major Juniors, are retained for two years before their drafted NHL team must sign them. Van Ryn left Michigan for Major Juniors in order to challenge the existing standard for college players.
The arbitrator’s decision has opened the door for other players to leave. Before Comrie, Maine forward Barrett Heisten also took advantage of the new ruling. He, too, left with two years of eligibility remaining.
Berenson said there was a difference between Comrie’s and Van Ryn’s situation. He said Van Ryn wanted to break ties with New Jersey, while Comrie was concerned about whether his draft team, Edmonton, had plans for him, and is hoping this move and subsequent free agency will further his pro chances.
“Every kid has a dream of playing in the NHL, so this is a tough decision,” said Berenson. “I know he talked with the [Edmonton] Oilers, and perhaps the organization’s plans for him in the future scared him a bit. I don’t agree with his decision from a development perspective, but I have no doubts that he will have a good year in juniors.
“I am disappointed that he is leaving because he had the potential for an outstanding career at Michigan. Also, the timing is not good for us. We are three weeks from the start of school, and our top returning scorer is not coming back.
“I am mostly disappointed because Mike will not graduate from Michigan. That’s really sad because after two years he was on track to graduate on time.”
In his two years with the Wolverines, Comrie tallied 43 goals and 60 assists for 103 points, with 133 penalty minutes. He finished his collegiate career with a plus 38 rating.
Last season, Comrie was named to the All-America Second Team, and was an All-CCHA First Team selection. Comrie was the CCHA’s 1998-99 Rookie of the Year and a member of the Bauer/CCHA All-Rookie Team. In 1999, he was selected by the Edmonton Oilers in the second round (91st overall) of the NHL Entry Draft.