Mike Komisarek found it much easier to call Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson to say he was coming back to school than when he called him in 2002 to say he was leaving early to pursue a pro career.
Komisarek, drafted seventh overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, left Michigan after his sophomore season in 2002 and wound up playing in 21 games with the Canadiens in 2002-03.
After scoring 14 goals and 67 assists for 81 points in 551 career NHL games with the Canadiens, Maple Leafs and Hurricanes, Komisarek is back in Ann Arbor. He has a class load of 12 credits this semester and has returned to the hockey program to work under Berenson as an undergraduate student assistant.
“One of the toughest things I had to do was make that phone call and tell him I was leaving school early,” Komisarek said. “He was really disappointed, and let me know if I was his son he wouldn’t let me go.
“Red always cared about his players on and off the ice. He wants you to play in the NHL. He wants you to be a solid character person as well. This is an opportunity to give back to not only Red but the hockey program and the university, which has given me so much.”
Komisarek also wants to keep the promise he made to his family that he would eventually earn his degree.
“There [were] a couple people I promised I would eventually go back to school, my parents being one of them,” Komisarek said. “They always stressed the importance of school. As thrilled as they were when I signed my first NHL contract, they probably were as equally disappointed that I didn’t finish school.
“This was an opportunity to fulfill that promise, but to also make things right with Coach Berenson and the Michigan hockey program.”
Komisarek went to training camp last fall on a tryout with the New Jersey Devils, but was cut. He said he never considered going to Europe to continue his career and instead began to look into starting the next chapter in his life.
The right-shooting defenseman Komisarek had his share of injuries throughout his pro career. A shoulder injury cost him a chance to represent the U.S. in the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 and ended the rest of his NHL season. He was an NHL All-Star in 2009 with the Canadiens and represented the U.S. in the World Championships in 2006 and 2011.
“I’m fortunate enough that I’ve come away from the game pretty much unscathed, despite multiple surgeries and a lot of stitches on my face,” Komisarek said.
Besides the shoulder, Komisarek said he had surgeries on both his wrists and a hip, and had a plate inserted in his arm.
Komisarek said shortly after being cut by the Devils in September he began to look into returning to school to work on his degree in sports management.
Freshman defenseman Zach Werenski, who is expected to be drafted early in the first round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, is among those who should benefit greatly from Komisarek’s return.
Associate head coach Billy Powers said Komisarek will have the most impact with the defensemen.
“He was a terrific defensemen in his two years here,” Powers said. “He was a guy who earned his stripes by his play without the puck and his physicality and his will.
“He’s a passionate player and that will probably show up being a passionate coach.”
Komisarek said returning to Ann Arbor gave him something no other college could offer — a chance to return to school and help the next generation of Wolverines.
Said Komisarek: “I want to help out any way I can.”
This article was written by George Sipple from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.