TORONTO — Mike Komisarek’s frequent trips to the penalty box Thursday night may have lost the Toronto Maple Leafs the game — but his style of play won over head coach Ron Wilson.
The towering defenceman was in the box when Montreal scored the tying goal, and the Canadiens went on to earn a 4-3 overtime victory in the regular-season opener for both teams. Komisarek, who left Montreal to sign with the Maple Leafs in the off-season, was remarkably charitable towards his former club, taking five minor penalties — two of which led to Canadiens power-play goals.
“Obviously you want to be on the ice a little more than in the box,” said Komisarek, who was greeted by a raucous cheer during pre-game introductions at the Air Canada Centre — laced with a smattering of boos from Habs fans in attendance.
The six-foot-four, 243-pounder wasted no time punishing his former team, earning a double-minor midway through the first period for high-sticking Canadiens forward Scott Gomez. The two battled for the remainder of the game, with Gomez drawing a Komisarek elbowing penalty with 4:46 left in regulation that led to Glen Metropolit’s tying goal.
Komisarek wasn’t pleased with the call.
“Tough call in that situation in the game,” said Komisarek. “I respect (the referees), I never say anything bad about them, but it’s tough in that situation when I’m just finishing a check on a guy that’s half the size of me.”
Wilson contended that Gomez ran into Leafs goaltender Vesa Toskala, and that Komisarek was simply protecting his teammate. And it wasn’t the only instance — Komisarek fought Travis Moen after the Canadiens forward bowled over a prone Toskala midway through the third.
“We counted five times they ran our goalie and only one time got a penalty out of it,” said Wilson. “The one time Mike happened to be there, he made the guy pay the price. I support that a hundred per cent.”
Look past Komisarek’s 15 penalty minutes and the 27-year-old had a strong game. He finished with a plus-one rating, added four blocked shots and three hits and was among Toronto’s leaders with more than 22 minutes of ice time.
Wilson will gladly take 81 more performances like that.
“Mike answered the bell, and he’ll continue to do so,” said Wilson. “We need more of our defencemen to respond as aggressively and quickly as Mike did.”
Wilson said during Thursday’s morning skate that he was concerned Komisarek might try to do to much against the Canadiens, who selected him in the first round (seventh overall) at the 2001 draft. After the game, Wilson said he was satisfied with Komisarek’s performance.
“I was very happy with his play,” said Wilson. “I’m glad he was (physical). He’s setting a tone tonight that he wants to carry through for the rest of the season.”
Komisarek insisted he didn’t treat the game any differently, despite the familiarity of the opponent.
“I knew it was going to be an emotional game, a very intense game, and it was that and more,” said Komisarek. “Being a big, physical guy, I definitely don’t shy away from that.”
Komisarek also denied that any bad blood existed between him and any of the Canadiens — particularly Andrei Kostitsyn, who had a few run-ins of his own with the Leafs defenceman.
“No,” said Komisarek. “I’m just (wearing the) wrong jersey.”