Listed at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, it’s hard to believe that anyone could describe Mike Komisarek as “unassuming.” But that’s exactly the word that Michigan coach Red Berenson uses to describe this anything but unassuming on-ice player.
“He’s just a nice, unassuming kid,” said Berenson. “He’s a very polite and respectful young man.”
But that’s Mike Komisarek off the ice. On the ice, he’s a different person, which Berenson is quick to point out.
“As a player, he’s got the physical presence of a pro-style player,” Berenson said. “He skates well for a big kid and he’s got the physical size to play big. He plays just as well without the puck as he does with it.”
Which might explain why this sizeable defenseman from Islip Terrace, N.Y., is ranked fourth among North American forwards and defensemen in the latest 2001 Central Scouting Bureau rankings. He is the top-rated U.S.-born player and ranks first among U.S. College players eligible for this year’s NHL Entry Draft.
In his rookie year with Michigan in 2000-2001, Komisarek posted modest numbers for a defenseman, scoring four goals and 12 assists in 42 games. His contribution in all aspects of the game impressed Berenson, especially during the stretch run which saw Michigan reach the NCAA Frozen Four before falling to the eventual champion Boston College in the national semifinal.
“I thought he got better as the games got bigger,” noted Berenson. “He played his best hockey in the stretch run and that’s why his stock went up. People saw him play some good games against good teams and saw how well he handled the pressure.”
Komisarek’s stock certainly did rise. In the CSB mid-season rankings, he was ninth. But his late-season play catapulted him to his current No. 4 position, putting him behind only Prince George’s Dan Hamhuis among North American defensemen.
“It was a very exciting time to play in [the NCAA tournament],” said Komisarek. “I grew up watching [the NCAA tournament] and to actually be playing in those games on national TV was a tremendous experience.”
Komisarek’s hockey career didn’t exactly get an early start. The son of Polish immigrants, Komisarek grew up on Long Island, N.Y., where he played baseball and soccer. At age 10, after his father took him to his first New York Islanders game, Komisarek decided to try hockey.
Two years later, former Islander defenseman Gerry Hart saw Komisarek, and, more importantly, saw his size as a 12-year old player.
“Through the many programs at the rink I own, I come in touch with a lot of kids at a very young age,” said Hart. “Mike [Komisarek] showed a lot of potential, so we gave him some attention. And the more attention we threw at him, the more he responded.”
Komisarek’s skills certainly developed under Hart and, after playing high school, local minor league and junior hockey, Komisarek joined the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. By the time he joined the program at age 18, Komisarek was already a veteran of three USA Select Festivals, representing New York at the Select-15, -16 and -17 tournaments.
“Hockey on Long Island wasn’t the strongest, so [Gerry] recommend I play juniors,” Komisarek said. “I went to Connecticut to play juniors and that led me to the National Team.”
Hart considers Komisarek a unique player and said that he’s only reached about 20 percent of his full potential. He also hopes that Komisarek will recognize his own skills.
“I think the upside to Mike Komisarek is something that I haven’t seen before,” Hart said. “What holds him back is he doesn’t know how good he can be and how much he can dominate. He’s still the ultimate team player. He has no selfish characteristics.
“To be a star in this game you have to have a little bit of that selfishness to want to do things with the puck and go to the net. I applaud him for that, but my own selfish interest would be to see him make more things happen.”
That selfish interest, though, remained hidden in Hart one season ago. Even though Komisarek was ranked 39th by the CSB for last year’s draft, with Hart’s guidance, he elected to play U.S. College Hockey instead of trying Major Junior, choosing Michigan and Berenson to develop his skills.
“My parents have always stressed education,” said Komisarek. “They’ve always been on top of me for school. I always knew I wanted to go to college and play hockey.”
“[Mike] respected his family’s wishes to be a student at Michigan and develop his hockey skills,” Hart said.
“There’s no question he’s exactly where he should be. My role with the family has been to be supportive and help re-affirm some of the decisions he’s made. These are his decisions and they’re the right decisions.”
Now, with the NHL knocking on his door, one has to wonder if that Michigan education will be completed. Berenson hopes that schoolwork and improvement of his hockey skills will remain the 19-year-old’s focus.
“I’ve told Mike that what he does about his own development is what makes him a better player,” Berenson said. “We [the public] make a big deal about the draft, but it’s not a guarantee. I worry about the impact the draft has on the kids. It often hurts development because you start worrying about being drafted and stop working hard to get better.”
One year ago, Dany Heatley, a defenseman from Wisconsin, was a No. 2 overall pick by the Atlanta Thrashers, but chose to return to Wisconsin for his sophomore season. He signed a contract with Atlanta at the end of this season.
Komisarek, though, doesn’t seem too focused on the NHL right now.
“I’ve never really thought about leaving school for [the NHL],” Komisarek noted. “When the time comes and I have to cross that bridge I guess I will. A degree, though, has always been really important to me.”
Hart believes that Michigan will be Komisarek’s home for a while.
“I don’t think there’s any question that [Mike] realizes the benefit of being at Michigan for the next couple of years,” said Hart. “It would take some convincing by some team or organization. But Red Berenson will be the first guy to tell Mike when to move on.”
Whether or not Komisarek will remain at Michigan is to be seen. But with an early first-round pick on the horizon, one will see exactly how “unassuming” Komisarek is.