Ex-Hab Komisarek hears his share of boos on Halloween night

 

“(Expletive)! How am I gonna go back home after all that love?” Those were the words to Bell Centre fans of hip-hop giant Jay-Z, who played the arena to glowing reviews Friday night, and not of Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Mike-K, who performed to somewhat less adoration Saturday night.

 
 
 
 
 

MONTREAL — “(Expletive)! How am I gonna go back home after all that love?”

Those were the words to Bell Centre fans of hip-hop giant Jay-Z, who played the arena to glowing reviews Friday night, and not of Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Mike-K, who performed to somewhat less adoration Saturday night.

It was the perfect storm on a Halloween so windy that the ghosts flapping in the trees were real kids — a leather-lunged crowd, the Montreal Canadiens aiming to snap a two-game losing streak, and the homecoming of defenceman Mike Komisarek, who in July joined the Leafs, Montreal’s oldest rival, as an unrestricted free agent.

What better night to bellow “boo” than All Hallows’ Eve?

In fact, Jay-Z and Mike-K had a bit in common during their pitstops here. A few of the artist’s Friday tunes could have been anthems Saturday night for the hockey player — 99 Problems; I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me); and Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love).

Booing a visiting athlete — and in Montreal, sometimes one of your own — is hardly new. This is the city, after all, that gave jeers to Jean Beliveau, Bernie Geoffrion, Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy, among others.

But include me among the minority who remain puzzled at the vitriol directed at Komisarek for no reason other than his having opted to cash his paycheque in Toronto.

Maybe there remains the blood of despisal flowing in Canadiens fans, blended with a little insecurity, for a player who trades the CH for the Maple Leaf. Twenty-eight new NHL addresses are fine. Just don’t make it Bay Street.

Of course, times have changed over the decades, during which 92 players have suited up for both teams. There wasn’t the bitterness in Montreal that’s now being shown Komisarek when Hall of Famers Plante and Dickie Moore pulled on a Toronto sweater.

Komisarek has taken only the high road since leaving the Canadiens. When he signed with Toronto, he spoke only glowingly of his six seasons and 361 NHL games in the Montreal organization. He talked similarly in Toronto a few hours before the teams’ Oct. 1 season-opener.

He repeated himself once more Saturday morning, not having ducked Montreal reporters as had Ottawa’s much more popular ex-Hab Alex Kovalev two Saturdays earlier:

“I’ll never speak badly about the city. I have a lot of good memories and friends,” Komisarek said of his experience in Montreal.

On the welcome, as it were, that he expected:

“It’s not whether there’s going to be (booing), it’s just a matter of how loud it’s going to be,” Komisarek said, adding that he and fellow former Canadien Mikhail Grabovski were joking about who was going to get more abuse. (No contest.)

“They have very passionate fans here. It’s a great city, a great hockey market,” he added. “In my years here, I never came across a Canadiens fan cheering for the Maple Leafs, so definitely it’s going to be loud against us.”

(Komisarek did earn two huge ovations Saturday night, for his clipping and cross-checking penalties. And he nearly tore the house down when he levelled Habs’ Glen Metropolit in open ice then declined Travis Moen’s prolonged invitation to fight.)

In the weeks leading to Saturday night’s game, the attacks grew as personal as they did infantile. Many have joyfully piled on a player who never gave less than full effort in a Montreal uniform and was a generous citizen during his seasons here.

Through it all, I’ve wondered whether any of those who ooze hatred and sling insults would hesitate for a heartbeat at moving to a different company if everything about the job offer was right. Or if the money was comparable but, for a whole variety of reasons, they simply needed a change of scenery.

Loyalty is a curious business in pro sports. Fans expect players to give it to their team unconditionally; management, meanwhile, swears allegiance only to the club and deals anyone to suit its needs, once-popular jerseys dumped into the remainder bin.

For Komisarek, the adjustment to his new threads has been anything but seamless. He is without a point through 12 games and is minus-8, though he leads his team in hits and blocked shots, including a game-high six hits and eight blocks Saturday night.

“You come to a new team and . . . try to earn the respect and trust of teammates,” he said. “Every new guy has a kind of defining moment — a defining hit or play, a blocked shot or goal to establish himself. . . . That situation hasn’t happened (for me) yet. But it’ll come.”

Komisarek left town still in search. And Canadiens fans almost hoped he finds it as they stepped out into the Halloween night, having had more fun booing an opponent than cheering their own.

Montreal Gazette

dstubbs@thegazette.canwest.com
 
 
 
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