New York state of mind

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

He's played in a Stanley Cup final, lives in the shadow of the Manhattan skyline, leads his new team in scoring and is currently dating singer/actress Hilary Duff.

Clearly, Mike Comrie has moved on.

Edmonton? Not so much.

Fans here seem to spend a lot more time living in the past than Comrie does, clinging to the memories of a bitter breakup five years ago by taunting and jeering the former hometown hero's every visit.

He has no idea why they can't let go, and wonders if the voices raining down on him at Rexall Place even remember why they're doing it.

"It's one of those things where a couple of fans start, and everybody reacts," said the 27-year-old centre, who returns with the New York Islanders tonight. "You ask 10 people why they're booing me, I bet you six of them give you a different answer."

Comrie didn't want to play here anymore for a variety of reasons, and the more attention people draw to that messy divorce by dredging it up at the top of their lungs, the more attention they draw to the reasons he wanted out in the first place.

No town wants to be viewed as rabid, spiteful fanatics who take everything personally and don't know when to let go. Does it?

"I think as a fan you have to be careful because you're going to see players not wanting to come here," he said, adding five years is a long time to carry a grudge. "We've both been to the finals since then."

Move on. Like he has.

"Time heals all wounds," he said of his feelings toward the city now. "I still come back here. I have family here. And people are always pretty nice to me to my face -- but I'm sure sometimes when I walk away they have different opinions."

Plenty of them, judging from his exit and subsequent returns in enemy colours. Some think he's a spoiled brat. Some think he's greedy. A lot of them even think he slept with former teammate Tommy Salo's wife -- whispers that began at the time of his Oilers holdout and bother him to this day.

"I should have said something about it right away. But the reason I didn't is because I didn't think it would have the legs that it did.

"Everyone thinks it happened, but it's the most ridiculous rumour. Untrue. You can ask Jason Smith, Ethan Moreau, Ryan Smyth ..."

It's the kind of stuff that comes with playing in a fishbowl. The kind of stuff that finally convinced him it was time to go.

"It was a lot of different things," he said in the Isles dressing room after yesterday's practice. "It was not being able to live my life and enjoy it.

You go into a restaurant and you sit in a corner with your back to everyone because you don't want people staring at you.

"Players go through it, celebrities go through it, but at 21 I wasn't really prepared for that challenge."

Not that he regrets any of his time here.

"I learned a lot from it and I had fun. I was very fortunate to have my family and friends there at my first NHL game. And when I scored my first goal and played in the playoffs, things every kid dreams of, playing for my hometown.

"But the way it unfolded was the biggest shame, and it was partly my fault. I understand that. But I don't think the organization handled it very well."

They didn't. But all that's in the past ... as far as he's concerned, anyway.

"I'm having fun (on Long Island). It's a great group of guys who want to compete every night. A great goaltender who gives us a chance to win, a coaching staff that makes it fun to be around the rink. It's been great living in New York - staying out of the spotlight."

Except, of course, when he's out with Duff, who knows a thing or two about life in a fishbowl.

"It's been great, pretty serious since the summer," he said. "She's a good person -- does a lot of things for charity, a lot of things people don't know. She's great to be around, we have a lot of fun together."

It makes occasional encounters with paparazzi worth it.

"She's in a business where her fans want to know what she's doing. They're interested in seeing how her day to day life is going. I realize that and understand that. I guess that comes with the territory of dating somebody in that business. But you're not in a city of a million people that are keeping an eye on you and knowing everything you do. I can duck out sometimes."


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