Back To School

Former NHL Defenseman Mike Komisarek Looks To Finish What He Started At The University Of Michigan

When Mike Komisarek left the University of Michigan in 2002 to sign a pro contract with the Montreal Canadiens, he always knew that someday, someway, he’d come back to Ann Arbor to finish his degree.

Now after playing 551 NHL games over 11 seasons, Komisarek is back on campus taking classes and serving as an undergraduate assistant coach with the Michigan hockey program.

“I have a lot of great memories from Ann Arbor and made a lot of great friends here. It’s a special place and I always knew I’d be back,” Komisarek said.

At Michigan Komisarek played in two Frozen Fours, was named the CCHA’s Best Defensive Defenseman in 2002 and made the All-CCHA squad in both 2001 and 2002.

“Leaving school is probably the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make in my life. It wasn’t an easy thing to call coach [Red] Berenson and tell him,” said Komisarek, who was selected seventh overall by Montreal in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.

“The impact he’s made on me as a person and as a hockey player has been critical to any success I’ve had. He cares about you on and off the ice and wants you to be a great hockey player and play in the NHL. But he also wants you to be a good person with solid character and do well in school.

“So coming back kind of gave me the opportunity to make things right with him and it’s an opportunity to give back to a university that has given me so much.”

Returning to Ann Arbor also fulfills the promise he made to his parents that he’d eventually finish his degree in Sports Management.

“Education was so important to my parents. Growing up they would drive my sister and I around to all of our sports as long as we did well in school,” recalled the West Islip, N.Y., native. “So even though they were excited when I signed my first NHL contract, they were also a little disappointed that I was leaving school early.”

As his playing career wound down, Komisarek started thinking about completing his degree – and when he was cut from the New Jersey Devils training camp last fall, he knew it was the time to do it.

“I am pretty grateful to have been able to play a game that I love for a living, but the time comes when you have to move on, and the last couple of years it’s been in the back of my mind,” said Komisarek, who also spent time with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes.

After an 11-year NHL career, Mike Komisarek has returned to the University of Michigan to complete his degree in Sports Management.After an 11-year NHL career, Mike Komisarek has returned to the University of Michigan to complete his degree in Sports Management.

To get the wheels turning for his return to campus, Komisarek contacted Berenson to find out what he had to do to get back into school.

“I asked him, ‘Are you sure you want to do this? You still have a few years to play if you want to,” Berenson said. “And he said, ‘No, I have made up my mind. I am ready to come back and I am excited.’”

After meeting with university admissions and scheduling staff, Komisarek moved to Ann Arbor with his wife and young daughter and enrolled for the second semester. He is taking 12 credits with classes that include Economics of Sport, Principles of Marketing and Strategy of Sports Organizations, and plans to graduate in May 2016.

“I am a 33-year-old junior up to my neck in schoolwork and it’s been great,” said Komisarek. “I wanted to be here and have all of the resources available. We’re settled in and everyone has been so welcoming.”

Since returning to campus, Komisarek has been on the ice at practice every day with the Wolverines, competing in drills and spending most of his time working with the team’s defensemen.

“I am a 33-year-old junior up to my neck in schoolwork and it’s been great,”

“He’s full of energy, he’s into it and he loves to communicate,” Berenson said. “He’s getting to know our players and he can see things they are doing well and things they need to do better.

“I am happy for him because he’s coming in as a student to finish his degree. And I am doubly happy that he can help out the team as well. It’s a just win-win situation all around.”

Komisarek played for coaches like Jeff Jackson at the National Team Development Program and Bob Gainey and Ron Wilson in the NHL, and strives to be “upbeat, positive and energetic” on the ice with the Michigan players.

In addition to finishing his degree, Mike Komisarek working as an under-graduate assistant coach, sharing his experience with Michigan hockey players.In addition to finishing his degree, Mike Komisarek working as an under-graduate assistant coach, sharing his experience with Michigan hockey players.

“I am trying to come in and compliment what our coaches are telling these guys and add my experiences,” said Komisarek, who played in the 2009 NHL All-Star Game and represented the U.S. at the World Championships in 2006 and 2011.

“It’s work ethic and putting in the time in practice. You can’t just snap your fingers and expect good results. It’s the investment you make all week in practice and when it pays off is the weekend when the games come.”

For the Michigan players that message of working hard on the ice and in the classroom comes through loud and clear when delivered by an 11-year NHL veteran.

“He told us ‘hockey can only take you so far,’” said junior defenseman Michael Downing, a third-round pick of the Florida Panthers who appreciates Komisarek’s first-hand experience with making the decision to jump to the next level.

“He said, ‘you’re in a good spot here, and whatever choice you make, you’ll live it with for the rest of your life. If you’re ready, then go. If you’re not, then stay and work. Don’t rush into things.’

“You can tell he’s passionate about Michigan and he loves hockey and being at the rink every day. And he knows what he’s talking about.”

Philip Colvin is a freelance writer based out of Walled Lake, Mich.
Issue: 
2015-03

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