BA - The Michigan Daily - Thursday, March 23, 2000
-T . // fYrN'
A year after steering Michigan into the
postseason as a freshman,
an older, more mature Mike Comrie has his
Wolverines poised for the playoffs. But who
is this Hobey Baker finalist?
By Geoff Gagnon - Daily Sports Writer
The strides are measured, the
movement quick and light. It hap-
pens like this every time; it's his
only predictable move.
Crisscrossing knees drive his legs like
pistons to the blue line where he taps the
stick of Jeff Jillson. A pivot later, as his
name is announced before every game,
Mike Comrie finds the empty space of
the ice and leans back to carve a single
straight line that parallels the blue one.
In a shimmer of snow and skate, the
blade and the ice, the steel and the water
are his - and so is the arena.
His style is in the simplicity, but the
statement is in the line he's carving. It's
like the line from here to his hometown
Edmonton, where a boy and his brother
learned the game near the banks of the
North Saskatchewan River.
Or it's the line from Edmonton to
neighboring St. Albert, where he
became a household name after guiding
the Junior "A" St. Albert Saints to a
championship a year before landing in
It's the line from here to Albany and
Saturday's NCAA Tournament opener
or even Providence and this year's
,It's the line back home to Edmonton
add an Oilers team that made him -a
third-round pick a year ago.
It's the line between being good and
being great - and Comrie knows it's a
Five hours east of Alberta's Rocky
Mountain Range that cuts its way to the
Pacific coast, Edmonton slides between
southern Canada and the Athabasca
frontier country to the north. It was a
place that called to fur traders in the
19th century and it was a place where
Mike's father Bill received a calling of
his own, when at age 16 the Chicago
sBlackhawks drafted him.
Before he could make it to the NHL
- even before he could make it to
training camp - Bill Comrie lost his
father and with him, any hope of play-
"He was the oldest kid in the family,"
Comrie explains. "When his father
passed away he was forced to give up
hockey. He had to support the family
and that meant getting a job."
So when the father with the unspoiled
potential and the dream left unrealized
returned to the ice, it was to give the
game to his sons Paul and Mike - a
game that Comrie says has become the
glue that has bound the three together.
"Hockey pulled us together when we
were young," Comrie said.
"I remember just wanting to be on the
ice with Paul and my father from the
moment I learned to skate."
It was the father and the brother and
the closeness that formed out of the
struggles of growing up that tied hock-
ey to a boy and Comrie to a dream.
It was Edmonton, a half a world away
from South State Street and Yost Ice
Arena, where flooded backyard rinks
and frozen winter days gave Mike an
introduction to the game he hopes to
make a profession. And later, an intro-
duction to the type of notoriety that
comes with being a hockey hero in
In just about the time it takes a 19-
year-old to build the resume of a Hobey
Baker finalist, fans outside of
Edmonton can forget what made
Comrie so known so young - even
Visit the webpage for the St. Albert
Saints of the Alberta Junior Hockey
League and you'll see a litany of NHL
stars and noted names listed as alumni.
But it's two pictures in the center of the
page, both of Comrie, that are larger
than the rest - larger even than that of
NHL star Mark Messier.
"They love him in Edmonton and St.
Albert," Paul said. "It's because of what
he did with the Saints - he's very well
And maybe he should be. After all,
his 60 goals, 78 assists and 138 points in
58 games in 1997-98 are all team
records for the Saints who boast more
than a handful of NHL alums. His
recordbreaking 1997-98 campaign also
garnered Comric Canadian Junior "A"
Player of the Year honors and suddenly
gave the acclaimed young phenom a
Recruited by schools all over the
U.S., Comrie debated whether or not he
should attend college or play Major
Junior hockey. In the end, it was the
influence of his brother's experience as
a junior at Denver University that may
have convinced Mike to play at the col-
"I had talked to people that play in
Juniors, and I had talked to people that
played in college, and I really couldn't
make up my mind," Comrie said.
"In the end, I thought about my visits
to see Paul in Denver and I thought
about what I could gain from college
and decided that would be the direction
I should go."
With that decision out of the way,
Comrie's father said the choice of which
school to attend was one that didn't take
his son long to make.
"I remember after he decided to visit
schools he scheduled several visits and
his first was with Michigan," Bill
"Well, I got a phone call from his
hotel room the very first day he was
there. He told me that he would cancel
the rest of the trips, that his mind was
Watch Mike Comrie before a game as
the national anthem is played. Watch
him rock and sway and dig his skates
into the ice. Watch him fidget and tap
his stick or his helmet. Watch him fight
an obvious urge to scream to the band to
hurry. And then watch the helmet and
the stick and those skates find their way
into a motion so pure it must be instinct
as the speedy Comrie ignores the final
few words of the song to begin skating.
"I'm ready to play at that point,"
Comrie explains. "When I'm on the ice
I want to play, I'm in a hurry to get start-
Even if that means skating with such
intensity that you fail to see the col-
orguard unit filing off the ice with the
American flag earlier this season in East
Even if that means having to hurdle
the red carpet while sending ROTC
cadets scurrying off the ice like troops
to a trench?
It's a tendency that seems to reflect
his career - Mike Comrie is in a hurry,
and at times not even an army can stop
him - literally.
He moves faster to carve that line in
the ice straighter and longer, and when
he comes to a stop near the boards, the
motivation stares back at him off the
shine in the glass. He drives himself,
and Paul - ironically now with the
Edmonton Oilers - says that's what
sets his brother apart.
"He sets tremendous expectations for
himself and he works hard to show that
he can accomplish great things," Paul
said. "That drive to be better and to
work harder makes him the player he
It's been two years since Comrie
made his decision to come to Michigan,
and in that time the center has raced his
way to become one of the CCHA's pre-
mier players on the strength of a 44-
point season last year.
"What we wanted out of Mike was a
player who could come in here and
make an immediate impact," Michigan
coach Red Berenson said. "That's cer-
tainly what we got."
And maybe a little more.
Rather than merely make an impact,
Comrie used his rookie season to make
a statement about who he is and what he
intends to become in the CCHA - and
the league took note, awarding Comrie
the conference's Rookie of the Year
And at this point in his still-young
career there's little question about just
what type of player he is. As Comrie
stands poised to lead Micligan into
Albany and the NCAA Tournament on
Saturday, he is a very different player
from the one that tallied five points in
six playoff games a year ago as a rook-
He has defined himself this season as
Michigan's most potent offensive
weapon, netting 55 points on 21 goals
and 34 assists, while shouldering an
increasing leadership role as his contri-
butions continue to make him
Michigan's marquee player.
Don't think other teams haven't taken
Comrie found in his transformation
from one of the league's best rookies to
one of the league's best players the frus-
trating reality of success: sometimes
you create more than a reputation, you
create a target.
The victim of increased defensive
scrutiny this season was a result of
Comrie's scorching start to the year, as
he scored 10 goals and 10 assists in the
first nine games.
Since then he's been targeted and
harassed by teams doing their best to
keep him out of Michigan's offensive
picture, leaving him prey to what
Berenson termed "on-ice stalking" at
one point this season.
But the result, say both Comrie and
his coach, has been good for him at
"It's a form of flattery," Berenson
said. "And it's helped him mature as a
player. To be keyed in on like that all
season long by opposing defenses&
helped him learn how to deal with being
a star player. He's learning to play with
control and to make good decisions:'
And Comrie's maturation this season
has also meant learning that sometimes
decisions are out of his control.
It was a dejected and confused Mike
Comrie that arrived in Detroit for this
season's Great Lakes Invitational while
the Canadian Junior National teamflew
to Sweden for the Wo d
Championships in December. Ha~
been selected to try out for the team, the
highly-touted Canadian star was sent
home scratching his head after the
team's roster of 22 had been finalized.
Maybe because of his status as a college
player playing in the United States, per-
haps defensive inconsistency, or maybe
because of his size - Comrie was
released and left without answers.
"Mike was frustrated and confu
after that," his father said. "He looke at
the decision and realized ther' was
nothing he could do except show them
that they were wrong about him."w
Even Berenson, a Canadian himself,
was puzzled by the move to cut Comrie,
but saw it as an experience from which
lessons could be learned.
"We talked about it after he returned,"
Berenson said. "I told him that this was
a chance for him to realize that no
ter how well you play, some things
out of your hands. I said 'If you did your
best then there's no reason to second
guess yourself. Your mission to grow as
a player shouldn't change."'
And it's clear that for Comrie it has-
Nor has he remained bitter over a
decision that called his ability into ques-
"Mike loves to prove people wroo9'
Paul said. "He's been defying critics
since the first day he put on skates and
it only seems to make him better."
When the winter whips its way down
South State Street, and the freeze of the
rink and and the steam of sweat mix to
meet the thunder of applause in an air of
electricity that is Yost Arena,: Mike
Comrie is focused, almost alone-with
He thinks of nothing more than the
simplicity of the task at hand -the
puck, the stick, the ice.
Gone are the blurring realities of
expectations or the numbing drone of
critics. His thoughts are his and the
moment is too.
And when Michigan takes the ice
Saturday in Albany, feeling and intensi-
ty will be amplified, but for Com,
now a playoff veteran, the routine
be the same.
He'll race to his spot to carve the
same line when his name is annouoced
and then he'll play to keep carvingit -
the way he always has.
® Finished second in the CCHA in scoring.
N Second Michigan player to lead the team m scoring
his freshman and sophomore seasons.
* 10 goals and 10 assists in first nine games game him
the fastest scoring start in the country,
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