February 5, 2010
Uncanny timing by Gunnarsson
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
Mike Komisarek and Carl Gunnarsson have played just one game together on defence for the Maple Leafs this season and have met mostly in passing through the dressing room.
Yet, the fate of the seven-year NHL veteran and the rookie Swede are intertwined.
When the $22.5-million US horse Komisarek tore a quad muscle in November, Gunnarsson leapt from the obscurity of 189th in his 2007 draft year to take his roster spot. When Gunnarsson smashed his elbow and missed the month of December, Komisarek came back and played his best hockey of the year.
And when Komisarek went out again with his season-ending shoulder injury on Jan. 2, Gunnarsson not only stepped up once more, but gave the team enough trust in him that they included Ian White in the Dion Phaneuf trade with Calgary.
"We just kind of switched," Gunnarsson said of the weird timing of their health issues. "I wouldn't be here if that wasn't the case. Mike would have played the whole season and I don't know if I would've got the chance. I feel bad for him and the U.S. Olympic team that he's out, but stuff happens.
"I got a lot of minutes and the coaches had confidence in me. I have to say I was lucky, but some time it will strike back at me. I just hope I've had my bad injury for this year."
In a season in which Komisarek, Luke Schenn, Jeff Finger and Grant Exelby all have had consistency issues, Gunnarsson kept the mistakes to a minimum both with the Marlies and the big club. Heading into Friday's game in New Jersey, he is tied for the team lead with a plus-4.
His season thrill came last Friday in Jersey when he shocked Martin Brodeur with a shot that glanced in off another Devil for his first NHL goal. Gunnarsson said he was glad a teammate went after the souvenir puck as he didn't want to show up the goalie many consider the best ever in the game.
"That first goal is pretty cool -- and it came against Brodeur," Gunnarsson said. "It was a deflection, but I'll take it. It was just amazing."