Oct. 30, 2002
Notre Dame, Ind. –
By Tim Connor
He’s a throwback to another era of hockey. While scoring goals is nice, Notre Dame defenseman Neil Komadoski gets great enjoyment from the physical aspects of the game.
Nothing brings a smile to the rugged defender’s face like a big, open-ice hit or a crunching check in the corner. Opponents shouldn’t even think of standing in front of the Notre Dame net when he’s on the ice unless they enjoy a well-placed elbow or solid crosscheck in the back to clear his goaltender’s field of vision.
Komadoski comes to play every practice and every game and while it’s a job, no one enjoys the game more than the big blueliner.
“If you aren’t having fun, then what’s the point of being out there,” says Komadoski.
While having fun is important, Komadoski is all business when the puck is dropped. Just ask anyone who has been on the receiving end of collision with the 6-2, 218-pound defenseman.
No stranger to the penalty box (81 penalties for 206 minutes) in his first two seasons with the Irish, the third-year defender takes pride in his rugged style of play.
“I hope that I’m a player that the other team hates to play against. That’s always one of my goals,” says Komadoski.
“My game is pretty basic,” added the marketing major.
“I like to throw my body around and not run around too much. I try to take care of my own end, play tough in front of the net and make good, quick passes. When I get a chance to nail a guy, I try to do it without putting myself out of position.”
Drafted in the third round by the Ottawa Senators following his freshman year, Komadoski has been a mainstay on the Notre Dame blue line since the first game of his rookie season in 2000-01.
On a team that started as many as four freshmen and a sophomore on defense, Komadoski and his fellow defenders learned the game first-hand.
“I guess you could say we had on-the-job training,” Komadoski said with a laugh.
“We had three freshmen start in our first game at Xcel Energy Center in front of 20,000 people versus Minnesota. That’s a tough way to start, but at the same time, being in those situations and going through those growing pains has helped us get to where we are this year.”
The veteran Irish defense is one of the team’s strengths this season with four juniors and one senior at its core. They make up a unit that will begin its third year together.
“When I look back, getting a chance our first year has become an advantage for us. We got a chance to step up and learn a lot right away,” says Komadoski.
“We know each other better and we are comfortable with one another. Our defensive unit should be one of the best in the league if not the country. We’re real excited about that.”
Known for his physical style of play, Komadoski has added a scoring touch this season as he has a goal and six assists through the first six games of the season.
A product of the St. Louis area, Komadoski is one of three players on the Notre Dame roster to have a father who played in the National Hockey League.
His father, Neil Komadoski, Sr., also noted for his physical-style of play, saw action in 501 games over eight seasons as a defenseman with the Los Angeles Kings (1972-77) and the St. Louis Blues (1977-80).
“My dad coached me until my freshman year of high school so that was a great advantage for me,” explains Komadoski.
“We could talk about hockey 24 hours a day. We didn’t do that, but he always knew the right time when he needed to help me, when he needed to back off or when he needed to drill something into my head and tell me this is what you have to do. He’s always been there giving me support.”
Not recognized by many as a hotbed of hockey, the St. Louis area has produced three players on the Irish roster and a host of others playing Division I hockey, as well as several National Hockey League draft choices this past June. At the heart of this hockey talent development in the Gateway City are the St. Louis Blues Alumni.
All three Irish players from the St. Louis area (Connor Dunlop and Yan Stastny are the others) have a father who played for the Blues. They, along with many other former Blues players, have settled in the area and have lent their time and experience to the youth hockey programs.
Komadoski has nothing for praise for what the Blues’ Alumni have helped accomplish in his hometown.
“It’s funny that Yan, Connor and myself all came from the same program and went to high school together,” says Komadoski.
“Traditionally you don’t think of St. Louis as a big hockey hotbed, but the Blues Alumni started the Triple A program, sponsored a team to go to Quebec every year and got involved in the youth hockey programs. Without those guys, none of us would be where we are today. We owe a lot to St. Louis hockey and the Blues alumni.”
As the Irish open the 2002-03 season, the high-energy defenseman and his teammates will look to start this season where they left off last March at Joe Louis Arena.
“When we stepped on the ice for captain’s practices to start this season, it was probably the fastest and most intense hockey that we have had here in a long time,” says Komadoski
He was quick to add, “This team can go as far as we want. People I’ve talked to say this could be the best hockey team that Notre Dame has had in the program’s history. The talent and the work ethic are here. Guys know what they have to do and what their roles are. If everyone sticks to those roles and commits to the system and each other, there’s no telling how far we can go.”