Kessel, Komisarek happy to get call
By Rob Longley
CALGARY -- If there were some post New Year's eve cobwebs clogging Mike Komisarek's head yesterday, they cleared in a hurry.
The Maple Leafs defenceman rang in the new decade in style when he picked up the phone and his boss Brian Burke was on the line with news that he is a U.S. Olympian.
"It's definitely a pretty awesome way to start off the New Year," Komisarek said late yesterday afternoon, still beaming at the confirmation he is going to Vancouver. "As an athlete, it's the ultimate to have the opportunity to represent your country on the Olympic stage.
"It's an honour and a privilege."
That privilege will also go to his Leafs teammate, Phil Kessel, who also got the call yesterday, his coach Ron Wilson, who will guide Team USA to the Olympics for a second time and Burke. It should make for an interesting dynamic in the Leafs dressing room as the Games approach.
The Toronto roster is among the league leader in players headed to the Olympics although none of the six on what the organization likes to bill as "Canada's team" will be wearing the other Maple Leaf.
The Americans are likely to be dismissed by many as a fringe contender for gold which is fine by Wilson. With a young, speedy group, Wilson expects his team to battle for a medal.
"We don't need a miracle," Wilson said, referring to the Miracle on Ice, the epic upset the U.S. pulled to win gold in Lake Placid in 1980. "Any one of a number of countries could win. In these tournaments, the team with the best goaltender usually wins. Right at the moment, the U.S. has the best goalie in the NHL in Ryan Miller.
"If he keeps playing the way he has, we have a pretty good chance of winning a gold medal."
You don't have to convince Flames captain Jarome Iginla of that now that he's taken a good look at the roster.
"They have a good young team," said Iginla, who will lead his Flames against the Leafs tonight at the Saddledome. "There's a lot of good young American players around the league. Sometimes you don't even realize they're American until (the team's announced)."
Kessel is well versed with the Miracle on Ice story, given that he was coached as a youngster in Wisconsin by Bob Suter, who played for the legendary team.
"I think it grew (the game) a lot," Kessel said of the dramatic 1980 win. "It was a pretty big thing for the United States to win -- it will always be remembered.
"We've got a lot of young guys but we've got a lot of skilled guys."
Though neither Leaf player was a surprise addition to the U.S. squad, Wilson said there were questions regarding both at different points of the season. After Komisarek struggled during his first month in Toronto, some of the U.S. management team questioned his inclusion.
With Kessel, the issue was how he recovered from off-season shoulder surgery, a moot point after his strong start.
"There was a lot of debate over Mike, especially the way he started," Wilson said. "But that's all settled down now. He's played really well over the last month.
"After a couple of weeks, (Kessel) was basically a no-brainer."
Having played all of his pro career in Canada, Komisarek knows the passion that fans here have for hockey. The Long Island, N.Y. native would like nothing more than to turn that passion to depression, however.
"I'm not going there just to be part of the event and participate," Komisarek said. "In a short tournament, you can ride a hot goalie or a hot line right to the gold medal game. You want to go there for one reason and that's to win gold."
MORE FROM ROB LONGLEY