Differing emotions for Canes against Toronto

calexander@newsobserver.comOctober 16, 2013 

— For the veteran, it’s a game with extra meaning.

For the rookie, it’s realizing a dream.

For the coach, it’s all about winning a hockey game while also being able to catch up with family.

The Carolina Hurricanes have eight players on their roster who are Ontario, Canada, natives and Canes coach Kirk Muller is from Kingston, Ont. When the time comes to play the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre, it’s not a routine road game and it won’t be Thursday night.

Defenseman Mike Komisarek is the Canes veteran and defenseman Ryan Murphy the rookie. Komisarek once was a high-priced free agent acquisition for the Leafs who found his stay in Toronto, and games at the ACC, tough at times. Murphy grew up in Aurora, Ont., attending many Leafs games with his father and brother and fantasizing about one day playing in the NHL.

Komisarek on Wednesday downplayed his return to Toronto, where injuries caused his once-promising career to take a downward turn the past few seasons, to the dismay of Leafs fans.

“We’ll see,” he said. “I think as the summer goes by and you start the season, you don’t reflect. You digest what’s gone on in the past and you move on and look forward.”

What is it about playing in Toronto and all that goes with it?

“Everyone lives and breathes how the hockey team is doing,” Komisarek said. “Usually it’s on the front page and back page of the paper. It’s all people talk about and you can’t get away from it anywhere you go. It’s like 24/7 under the microscope.

“You can tell whether the team won or lost by how people are carrying themselves at work on Monday. It’s almost like being a New York Yankee in Manhattan.”

Komisarek, 31, played for the Montreal Canadiens, another hockey fishbowl, before signing with Toronto in 2009. Coming to Raleigh and the Canes has been a breath of fresh air for the West Islip, N.Y., native, even though he has been a healthy scratch in six of seven games this season.

“I’m just itching to get in there and contribute,” he said.

Murphy, 20, will play his 11th career NHL game and his first at Air Canada Centre. His parents have tickets and there will be friends from Aurora on hand.

Murphy said he once “idolized” the Leafs and said a personal favorite was former defenseman Bryan McCabe, who spent seven seasons in Toronto and retired in 2012.

“I wore 24 throughout my junior career because of him,” Murphy said. “I loved how he created offensively from the back end and that big shot from the point on the power play, so I watched him a lot.”

Now, the Canes’ former first-round draft pick is the one being watched. Murphy said he played in a junior prospects game at the ACC a few years ago but said, “I’ll be a little more nervous this time.”

Carolina (2-2-3) will look to end a three-game winless streak while the Leafs are off to a 6-1-0 start – their best in 20 years – after a 4-1 win Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild. They led the Atlantic Division after Tuesday’s games.

Special teams have been an early-season strength for Toronto, which has the league’s third-ranked power play (33.3 percent) and penalty kill (88.9).

Muller said his brother may be at the game. It’s usually that way when the Canes play in Montreal or Ottawa – some of the Kingston Mullers congregate.

Being behind the bench isn’t the same as being on the ice, but Muller said a game in Toronto still has a special feel.

“It doesn’t wear off,” he said. “It’s a great hockey town, a great atmosphere. I don’t think it gets old.

“I think the fun thing about it is when you’re young, you’re excited and play in front of your family and friends. When you get older they say, ‘Hey, this could be one of the last times I see you play.’ There’s always some reason to play there that you’re excited about.”

Quick hits: Defenseman Tim Gleason, who has not played this season because of a concussion, is on the two-game road trip and should skate with the team for the first time, Muller said. … Forward Elias Lindholm (upper-body injury) won’t play Thursday but could return Saturday for the New York Islanders game.

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