Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta`s Mike Commodore is a name and face that is very familiar to hockey fans. In close to 500 NHL games, the big rugged red head has put up 106 points and 683 Penalty minutes.
Commodore became a household name when he grew out his red locks and beard in two consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup finals. As a relative newcomer to the National Hockey League in 2003-2004 (he had a short stint with the New Jersey Devils previously) Commodore would help the Calgary Flames head to an eventual loss to Tampa Bay in the championship round.
The 2004-2005 NHL Lockout saw Commodore head back to Lowell of the American Hockey League before being traded to Carolina in the off-season. In a great personal Triumph, Mike Commodore would not only make a return trip to the Cup finals, but this time he would become a Stanley Cup champion.
Eventually, he would end up in Columbus where he would play some of his best hockey forming a number one shut down pair with Jan Hejda. Columbus Dispatch beat writer Aaron Portzline: ``Commodore was a really good player in his first year with the Blue Jackets. Big, physical player who was loud enough and bold enough to spark a moribund dressing room.`
I've been surprised the last two seasons that Commodore can't get a job in the NHL. Pretty good player.``
Last season during the lockout, Hab-fans may have noticed Commodore patrolling the blue line for the Bulldogs in Hamilton and even at an intra-squad scrimmage at the Bell Centre. He didn`t stick with the Habs, and is now plying his trade with Admiral Vladivostock of the KHL.
I recently had a very lengthy chat with Mike Commodore all about his career, his time in Hamilton, Coach Sylvain Lefebvre, the KHL, the Stanley Cup and everything in between.
I'm surprised to hear you were a flames fan growing up, did you have a favourite player?
No. I really didn't have a favorite player. I just liked the Flames.
The 2 moments that I do remember from growing up regarding the Oilers; I remember my dad taking me to an all-star game there, I think it was an all-star game anyways...sure seemed like it.
And like everyone in Alberta and maybe hockey in general I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when Gretzky was traded to LA.
Were you always a defenceman? Did you try to emulate anyone in particular?
Yes I was always a defenceman. Looking back I wish I would have played some forward as a kid....it might have helped my skating. I didn't really try to emulate anyone but I did like Adam Foote as a player.
Do you remember the first time you went to see an NHL game?
haha...the trade to Calgary was perfect!
I love the city of Calgary, I still spend most of my summers in Calgary. And I really can't say enough good things about the Calgary Flames and how they treated me. I am very grateful to the Calgary Flames. Although I didn't play many games in Calgary, I was with the organization a little over 2 years, and it was really the turning point in my career.
You reached the Stanley Cup Finals shortly after being called up by the Flames, what do you remember about that?
I shaved it for the Jimmy V foundation first off because it's an excellent charity, and secondly I wanted to keep it local in Carolina so Jimmy V was a perfect fit.
If it wasn't always the Jimmy V fund, which other charities did the money raised go to?
The time I shaved my head while I was with the Flames the money went to cancer research and it was through my mom's high school.
It was one of those things where lets say the science teacher says "Hey if you kids raise $100 I will shave my head". So after we beat Vancouver in the first round my mom asked me if I would like to be a part of it once the playoffs were over so I said yes.
With your notoriety for your Hair and Bathrobes, have you ever thought about your own line of Men's hygiene products? Seems to have worked out for a certain "Violent Gentleman".
Red head could work. I envision an affro'd, bathrobe clad redhead advertising for shaving products in a whimsical style similar to the old spice ads. Maybe throw in a borscht reference or two for fun!
You ended up being vindicated by winning the Stanley Cup the very next season, but how hard was it not being able to come back with Calgary after coming so close? There must have been some sense of "unfinished business"
Which do you think affected the outcome of that series more - the emergence of Cam Ward or the injury to Saku Koivu? Had Koivu not been injured, and/or had Cam Ward not stepped in (for the ill Martin Gerber) to start game 3, does the result remain the same?
haha...another tough question.
Honestly all I can say is this....we had a REALLY good team that year. For the entire year. After we got down 2-0 to Montreal I think as a team the feeling was "We are way too good and had too good of a year to go out like this"....and then we turned it on. But in saying that....Cam standing on his head sure helped. haha.
I did draw on my 2004 final for sure...but at the same time it was 2 completely different scenarios for me. In Calgary in the finals I was playing very minimal minutes...and in Carolina I was playing 20 minutes a night. What I did draw from the Calgary finals was that I knew I had been there before...so I knew what to expect both on the ice and off. And I do remember waking up the morning of game 7 in Carolina and thinking "I lost 1 game 7 in Calgary...I am not going to let that happen again". Lucky for me it worked out.
In 2004 I spent the first half the year playing for Lowell Lock Monsters (Calgary's AHL team) got called up right before the all star break...blew my shoulder out in my second or third game...missed 2 months, then came back and played the last couple regular season games in Calgary, and then playoffs.
In Calgary I was more of a depth guy that caught a break due to injuries in the playoffs and I got my chance.
In Carolina I was there all year...and played significantly more....but you know what, both were very rewarding experiences. I cherish both.
In 2004 we came so close. Like REALLY close...and just fell a little short. When it was over it was a tough pill to swallow. You never know...lots of guys never get a chance to play in the Cup finals...I did...you never know if it will happen again. So when it happened the very next NHL season that was special.
For me personally it was my best regular season as a professional. Statistically my second year in Carolina was better...but overall 2008-2009 was my best year.
Unfortunately everything was downhill after that and nobody remembers how I played my first year there. All anyone brings up is the negative. Like I said earlier, it still really pisses me off how things ended up between me and the Blue Jackets.
What was the buzz like around the team during that season/playoff run?
That year I would say things were pretty normal until the end of January.
People need to understand how Columbus works. First off Ohio State Football is #1 and always will be. The Blue Jackets could run off 4 consecutive Stanley cups like the Islanders back in the day and Ohio State football will still be king. And I am definitely not saying that like its a bad thing. It isn't at all.
So up until the end of January (the end of Buckeye football season) normalcy for the Blue Jackets was weekday games with average crowds, weekend crowds packed. Or close to it. Once January hit that year we were doing ok but not great....but then we went on a tear in January...I think we went 14-2 or something like that. After that the rink was jammed every night and people were excited because they knew we had a good team.
People were really excited for the playoffs....unfortunately it was a short run. We came out in the first period against Detroit in Detroit on fire. We were all over them. It could have easily been 3-0. Unfortunately for us...Osgood made some huge saves and after that Detroit took over.
You mentioned that it still irks you how things ended in Columbus, how DID things end over there?
Here is how it went down in Columbus.
Scott Arniel came into Columbus as a first time NHL head coach, and he came in there loaded with jealousy and arrogance. His mindset was "now I am an NHL coach and I am going to get even for any shortcomings in my playing career".
Scott Arniel played pro hockey a long time at the NHL and AHL level. Scott Arniel didn't think he was paid enough for the time he put in. He didn't like guys that weren't married. Because in his words "I wish you guys had a wife and kids when you came to the NHL so you know how much they cost". He actually said that in a meeting. So needless to say if you were single with no kids (which I was and am) and you were making good money (I was the highest paid defenseman in the organization) you were in trouble. Big trouble.
I broke my thumb the first game of the year in a fight....missed 6 weeks. Came back and was playing some of the best hockey of my career....my stats for that year finished at 20 games played, 2 game winning goals, 3 assists, 44 pims, and -8.
I was playing against top lines...the only stat that doesn't look good is the plus minus. Pitt beat us 9-1 one night and I was -4. Other then that 1 game my plus minus was just like everyone elses on the team. Anyways...I was playing well....then he scratched me 10 games in a row. Refused to meet with me. Wouldn't play me. The team was getting spanked left and right while I was being scratched...still wouldn't play me.
2 reasons.....he was jealous that I was single and making good cash...and secondly he is extremely arrogant and wanted more power in the organization. By scratching me who looks bad? Well first off I do. And secondly the GM looks terrible cause he is the one that signed me to be the highest paid defenseman on the team. So what ends up happening? I want a trade so Arniel kicks me off the team, I get bought out - and no matter what the reason is a buyout is a black mark against you. And its been downhill from that point forward.
I know it sounds kinda crazy....but I put a lot of time into this and those are the reasons. If I was playing like shit I would say so. I was a pretty good player in Columbus. My first year was great, my second year I played the whole year with groin problems, and the third year arrogant jealous Scott Arniel got hired and that's the end of the story.
As far as prospects...god we were SO young. The youngest team in the AHL I believe. Its hard for me to pick out guys at this moment, I think a few of them have played a few games in Montreal this season. But since I am a defenseman I will just give you a couple defenseman that I think have a chance to excel at the NHL level. I really liked Tinordi, Beaulieu and Pateryn. Its no secret that they are good players though. I think everyone in Montreal knows that.
Anyone who follows your Twitter account can see that you have a bit of a relationship with Brendan Gallagher. One would assume it started in Hamilton, do you keep an eye on him, or the team in general?
The Canadiens clearly have a lot of defensemen in the system, do you feel you were given a fair shot to make the team out of training camp last season? Would you have liked to stay?
Look with the lockout last year I don't even consider that a training camp. We had four practices and one inter-squad game. The team had seven d-men on 1-way contracts and that was before Subban signed. So 8 d-men on 1 ways. There was no space for me. Even if I played like Larry Robinson in that inter-squad game they wouldn't have kept me!
I am playing in the KHL, my focus is to play as well as I can here and see what happens.
How did you like playing for Sylvain Lefebvre in Hamilton? How did he compare to some of the other Coaches you've had to play for?
Think he'll make a good NHL head coach one day?
Yes I think Tom would make a great NHL head coach if that's what he wants to do.
It is clearly a different brand of hockey, are there things you like better about the game in Russia that you feel the NHL could learn from, and/or vice versa?
To answer your question...without a doubt I think the NHL should adopt the point system the KHL uses. 3pts for a regulation win, 2pts for overtime win or shootout win, 1 point for overtime or shootout loss. I personally believe it is significantly better. A team should be rewarded for winning in regulation. And the 3 point win really makes things interesting in the standings...even if your team is near the bottom in the standings...they can make up points fast with regulation wins. Also I don't think winning a game in a shootout should be worth the same as winning a game in regulation. To me the KHL system makes more sense.
It's funny that you mention the KHL needing to adopt more of the NHL approach to coaching, with more systems. Younger players loathe systems, especially the creative guys.
The stereotype we often hear about players coming from Russia is that they are more skilled/creative/less structured, do you think that's a product of their development?
Does the lesser emphasis on structure allow them to be more creative in honing their skills?
That's a very good question. And I guess the answer has to be yes to both those questions. But it would be really nice if you could introduce just a little bit of structure here. I mean I think you can still be creative and be responsible defensively. Pavel Datsyuk figured it out.
If another player has already won both cups, I couldn't find a note of it anywhere, so I believe you'd be the first.
It sounds to me like you still feel like there's some unfinished business in both Carolina and Columbus, is that fair? If you had the opportunity to finish that business it only one, which would it be and why?
And in Columbus that whole situation is sad. I really liked it there and I worked my ass off there, I was good in the community. I enjoyed some success but was kicked out and bought out by an unsuccessful, arrogant, jealous first year head coach halfway through my contract. Now as a result I am remembered as being a huge bust in Columbus.
I hate complaining and everyone has their "I got screwed" story....but honestly its a joke how I was treated in Columbus by Scott Arniel. I don't think I deserved that.
Have you ever actually seen a Commodore 64? (I owned an Amiga when I was a kid - it was an offshoot of the Commodore, it was a fun computer with a great Indiana Jones game!)
Maybe you should be the new Commodore 64 spokesman. Have you got one?
Don't have one but you are right I should get one.
Thanks very much for taking the time, wishing you all the best in the KHL this season on your way to a Gagarin Cup and looking forward to seeing your new line of bathrobes in the NHL again one day!
For more from Mike Commodore, follow him on Twitter: @commie22