Strobes danced across the ice at the Air Canada Centre Monday night.
The air, the beer and the reception accorded the Buffalo Sabres at Canada’s hockey temple was mixed to a frosty refinement. And, then there was Mike Komisarek, back in his perfect world, bouncing Jason Pominville off the end boards on the game’s first shift.
Three weeks after seeing his career as a Toronto Maple Leaf aborted by a quad injury, the Leafs’ defenceman was back in the limelight.
“I chose to be here and this is where I want to be. We haven’t got off to the best start but there’s a lot of adjustments, a lot of new faces, guys are still getting used to each other. It’s only going to get better,” Komisarek said earlier in the day as he stood in the Toronto dressing room, dozens of microphones surrounding him as he explained how this time he wants to get it right.
Explaining, how this time he wants to show why Brian Burke thought it was a good idea to invest $22.5 million and five years of the Leafs’ future in him.
Explaining how he’d wanted to do so much to be a great Maple Leaf that he forgot how to be the ordinary Mike Komisarek. “Yeah, You can’t put too much pressure on yourself. I can’t change what happened the first (16 games) but I can definitely improve. It wasn’t my best.
"As a player I hold myself to a higher standard. I can be better.”
Monday night he didn’t stick out which, when you’ve been the team’s unofficial sore thumb, is a good thing. He looked more like the old, reliable Mike. Nothing fancy. Just efficient.
Komisarek wasn’t brought in for his offensive wizardry. He has never had more than 19 points in a season but he’s known for keeping his end of the ice tidy. But as a Maple Leaf, he’d been an underwhelming success.
So, even coach Ron Wilson wasn’t certain who would show up Monday night: the rock-solid defender he thought he was getting as a free agent. Or, the hunk of confusion who had accumulated no points and tied for a team worst minus 9.
“I don’t know what to expect. The bottom line is that I hope he plays better. As a group we’ve played better than the last time he was in the lineup ... that does take the pressure off a bit.”
Going into Monday’s game, the Leafs had gone five games without losing in regulation and won three of four. The offence has blossomed in that time with 20 goals.
The change in attitude is evident to Komisarek. “The guys are little looser. There’s a lot more smiles around here.”
There hasn’t been a lot to make Komisarek smile. This is not how he envisioned life as a Maple Leaf unfolding. Fans see the spectacle of game night. They see the glory. The adulation. That is part of the NHL life. But there is another reality.
For the last three weeks it has been Komisarek’s reality. Skating for hours by himself, churning up miles on stationary bikes.
Physiotherapy. Grunt and groan. None of that shows up on SportsCentre. Nobody sees that on game night. When the team hits the road. You hit the gym.
“It’s devastating when the doctor tells you you’re out three or four weeks. You want to be out there. These are your friends. You come to a new city, These are your buddies. You hang out with them outside the rink. When they leave its like all the energy gets sucked out of the practice facility. You’ve got no one to hang out with,” said Komisarek.
Unlike Monday, there are no dancing strobes. “You’re at the rink longer than when you’re playing ... it gets to be long days,” he said. But, then, like Monday the darkness lifts.
“You can’t expect to come in and have everything run smoothly. Now, we’re playing better. Now it’s a different story.”