- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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TORONTO -- He signed a five-year, $22.5 million contract, jumping from one rival to another, and desperately wanted to make a great first impression.
Instead, he played only 34 games last season after season-ending shoulder surgery ruined his first season with the Toronto Maple Leafs and forced him to miss out on Team USA's thrilling silver-medal run at the 2010 Olympics.
"It was a long year,'' Mike Komisarek said Thursday morning.
The 28-year-old blueliner has pressed the reset button. The 2010-11 season began Thursday and Komisarek was leaving last year behind him. At the very least, it's made him a stronger person.
"Yeah, I'm still standing. It didn't kill me last year," he said with a smile after Toronto's pregame skate before Thursday's opener against rival Montreal. "It was definitely a humbling and learning experience last year, going through all the ups and downs. Am I a better player and person for it? I'd like to think so.
"When something gets taken away from you that you love to do, it's hard. You realize how fortunate we are to play this game. I'm just really looking forward to starting this year with a clean slate."
Named to the U.S. Olympic hockey team Jan. 1, he was on the operating table more than a month later. He had already purchased Olympic hockey tickets for family and friends and set up accommodations for some of them, as well. Instead, they all watched Team USA's heart-stomping run to the gold-medal game on the tube.
The toughest part was knowing, if he really wanted to be selfish about it, he could have played through the injury and gone to Vancouver. But he honored his contract with the Leafs. Let's face it, he knows how popular he would have been in these parts had he played for Team USA in the Olympics, made the injury worse and then shut down his season in Toronto a few weeks later. Yeah, that was a no-go.
"Obviously it was a tough blow, but I knew I had a commitment to this organization first," Komisarek said of missing the Olympics. "And I had to do the right thing. The doctor said I would need the surgery eventually. The way the season was going [with the Leafs out of contention], it was better to do it now than later. Yeah, maybe I could have gone to the Olympics and played through it, but it would have dipped into this year."
He cheered Team USA on, however, and didn't let his personal situation affect his national pride. And he was thrilled when USA Hockey sent him a Team USA jersey signed by the silver medalists.
"One of the greatest things I own," he said. "That was really nice."
He made a tough call in January, but now more than ever believes it was the right one.
"The reason we did it when we did was that it wouldn't dip into training camp. I wanted to come into camp fresh and healthy and ready to go," he said. "Everything has gone well with that."
On a team loaded with good defensemen, the key for Komisarek will be to stay within himself. In the 34 games he did play last season, too often he tried to do too much, perhaps trying too hard to justify his big contract. His heart was in the right place, the guy wants to win and cares about his team and teammates, but he needs to play his game -- a tough, physical game.
It's a message Leafs coach Ron Wilson has preached with Komisarek: don't try to do too much.
"Sometime you do try to do too much and you end up hurting the team," Komisarek said. "Sometimes less is more."
6dScott Burnside and Craig Custance