11/29/2012 12:55 PM
Story By: Stuart McComish
HAMILTON, Ont. – Mike Commodore’s nomadic professional hockey career has led him to Hamilton.
The veteran defenceman, who turned 33 on November 7th, signed a professional tryout contract with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League on November 22nd The Bulldogs mark the 13th stop in 13 seasons for Commodore, a native of Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta who was a second-round choice of the New Jersey Devils in the 1999 National Hockey League Entry Draft.
Commodore, who played a total of 30 NHL games last season for the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning, had been keeping in shape at his Florida home as the NHL lockout entered its third month.
“I think if I took the year off and didn’t play anywhere my hockey career would be over, or at least in the NHL,” Commodore told the media Wednesday after the Bulldogs wrapped up practice at Copps Coliseum. “I didn’t want to take that risk so I gave myself a date when I wanted to be back playing and that was American Thanksgiving or December 1st and I am fortunate enough that Hamilton called.”
Commodore, who is expected to make his Bulldogs debut Friday night in the first of back-to-back games against the host Abbotsford Heat, said he didn’t think he would be able to find a roster spot in the AHL. His last AHL stint came in 2010-2011 when he played 11 games for the Springfield Falcons, affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“I’m probably a little bit old for this league and I am not considered anybody’s prospect. I thought I would have to make a trip overseas, but this has worked out well. It’s nice to be back, it seems like it’s been a long time since the end of last season.”
Commodore, six-foot-four and 225 pounds, took in the Bulldogs’ 4-1 loss to the visiting Lake Erie Monsters last Sunday and has skated with the team in two practices.
“The last couple of practices have been good. I’m a couple of months behind. I was skating and working out, but it isn’t the same thing as going through a training camp and practicing with a team and playing games. I have some catching up to and that’s something I think I can do fairly quickly. I’ll be relying on my experience and if I can get through the next two weeks or so I think I will be okay.”
Commodore has played 484 games over 11 NHL seasons with the Devils, Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes, Ottawa Senators, Blue Jackets, Red Wings and Lightning. He has recorded 23 goals and 83 assists for 106 points with 683 penalty minutes and won a Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in 2005-2006.
“I can bring some size and experience on the back end and I can bring some leadership. It’s a young team with a very young defence corps. I will go out and play as hard as I can and set a good example. If I can show some of the defencemen something I will be more than happy to do that. I just want to contribute and be a good teammate.”
Commodore had been paired in practice with rookie Jarred Tinordi, one of four 20-year-old defencemen on the Bulldogs roster.
“I’m still trying to get faces and numbers straight, but from what I have seen, the defence corps seems fairly mobile. My partner, right now, is Tinordi and for a big guy he can move. There’s definitely some talent here. I look around the room at a lot of the young guys who are 20 or 21 and listen to them and think to myself what I was doing and saying at that age.”
In his early days as a professional Commodore said he benefited greatly from the counsel of veteran blueliners such as Geordie Kinnear and Ken Sutton.
“Those guys were great to me and easy to be around. They were helpful to me and I would like to do the same thing. I was up and down a lot in my first four seasons so I had some older guys in the NHL showing me things and some veteran guys in the AHL helping me.”
Commodore said young players need to learn more than just how to play the game at the professional level.
“It’s a change from junior to pro, it’s a change from college to pro. In my situation I found that I had to find things to do with my time off the ice, I needed to learn how to fill those hours. That can be a little bit overlooked. You have a lot more time. There’s no more school, no more homework, no more classes. You have some hours to fill and you need to learn how to fill them in a constructive way. That was a challenge for me and it took me a couple of years to figure that out and if I can help in that way I will be more than happy to. You need to get moving, you need to find things to do. You need to get into routines.”
Commodore spent the 2004-2005 season, cancelled due to a lockout, skating for the Lowell Lock Monsters, at the time the AHL affiliate of the Flames. He said he doesn’t see much optimism that a season can be salvaged from the current labour impasse.
“I was young and when that lockout hit and we’d just gone to the finals with Calgary. It didn’t make any sense to me that there would be no NHL. I was 24, I was a prospect and Calgary wanted me to play in their system.
“I’m biased as I am part of the union, but I think it’s fairly obvious to most people looking at it that the union is making efforts and conceding even though the revenue has kept growing. It’s not a negotiation, it’s a stickup. The owners tell us what their demands are or we don’t play. I don’t want to speculate, but it doesn’t look very promising.”
Since being traded from the Hurricanes to the Senators in February, 2008, Commodore has suited up for six teams in two leagues. He’s hoping wherever his career takes him he’ll be able to settle in for a while.
“I can’t complain. I have had a good career and done a lot more than people would have expected. I don’t think I am done, I’d like to play another two or three seasons if possible and take another run at the Stanley Cup. But that’s down the road. But would I like to stay somewhere for a while? Yes. As much as I love having my stuff in storage all over North America and moving around and shipping my car, it would be nice to stay somewhere for a little bit. But that whole gypsy thing has its advantages. At the end of my career I think I will just drive around in a U-Haul and pick everything up and drive off into the sunset.”
The Bulldogs’ trip to Abbotsford kicks off a stretch of four consecutive road dates. The Bulldogs return home to host the Monsters on December 11th at 7:30 p.m.