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New Leaf Komisarek looks forward to first date with Canadiens

Mike Komisarek is fully aware that most of the fans he made during his years with the Montreal Canadiens consider him The Enemy now that he has joined the rival Toronto Maple Leafs.

And by signing a US$22.5-million five-year contract as an unrestricted free agent with Toronto, he stayed in the NHL's Northeast Division, so he will be facing his old team at least six times per season.

"It's tough to look that far ahead," the 27-year-old defenceman said Thursday on a conference call. "I'm looking forward to the first game of the season and for the first time stepping into the Maple Leaf uniform, but I'm sure it'll be quite the experience when we play Montreal.

"I'll worry about that when we get there but I'm sure you guys (reporters) won't forget that date. People (in Montreal) are definitely not going to be cheering for me, but it's hockey, it's competition. It's what makes our sport great. You go from being hero to villain to hero."

Komisarek and right-winger Alex Kovalev were the only ones among 10 Canadiens due to become unrestricted free agents on July 1 who got offers to stay, but neither accepted.

Montreal general manager Bob Gainey said he never got a counter-offer from Komisarek before he entered the market. Kovalev was close to deal, but hesitated to sign and Gainey jumped at a chance to sign other players.

"This is the business we're in - sometimes relationships don't work out," Komisarek said. "I've had nothing but great experiences in Montreal with the fans.

"Hopefully, one day, we'll move on."

The six-foot-four 240-pound defenceman said he chose Toronto because he liked the direction new general manager Brian Burke has chosen - to build a big, physical team.

The West Islip, N.Y. native said he never considered returning home to Long Island to sign with the New York Islanders.

"I've always had a vision of myself playing in a traditional hockey market," he said. "I enjoy having that atmosphere, that electricity in the building, day in and day out.

"It was great in Montreal and it's going to be really great in Toronto. It's tough to find that now in New York. They're looking for a new building and they've got questions with their team. At the end, Toronto was a good fit for me."


Andrew Copp

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