From The Star
For aficionados of hockey gear, there’s always something fresh coming through the pipeline. Manufacturers design it. Marketers hype it. Star players endorse it.
It can be magnetic stuff for the type of person who craves the latest and greatest. Maple Leafs forward Leo Komarov is not that type of person.
For the past handful of years, for instance, he was famous for wearing an old model of skates. How old?
“Really old,” Komarov said. The skates were made by Graf, trimmed in white leather, released around 2006. Komarov liked them so much that, as the company launched new model after new model, he stockpiled a collection of his preferred ones. How many pairs?
“Many,” Komarov said. “The skate was really good. Nothing wrong with it. But it’s a business. They switch it up every year, trying to sell more. So that’s what happened. I stayed with those. And I kind of loved them.”
This is one of the many reasons hockey people love Komarov. Mike Babcock, the Maple Leafs coach, calls Komarov “a zero maintenance” player. While ex-captain Dion Phaneuf burned through new skates at an amazing rate — Phaneuf said a while back that he broke in a new pair “every 10 days to two weeks” — Komarov usually kept his scratched-up, floppy-tongued pairs for most of two months. It only enhanced his reputation as a no-muss grinder that his skates were likely the cheapest in the NHL, clearance-rack specials in a league where footwear worth around $1,000 is now the norm.
But this season Komarov faced at least a couple of gear-related problems. For one, Lou Lamoriello, the incoming GM known for team rules that prioritize uniformity, frowns upon outliers who wear skates with white trim. No big deal. Komarov simply asked the equipment staff to paint the white parts of his skates black. Problem solved, mostly.
“The only thing — you hit the boards and (the black) comes off,” Komarov said one day this season, examining the paint peeling and flaking away to reveal white leather.
Another issue: By last month, Komarov was down to the final pair of size 8 1/2s in his collection of circa-2006 skates. So this month he began breaking in a new pair — late-model Grafs wrapped with all-black leather. As the Maple Leafs wound their way through a four-game Western Conference road trip that concludes Monday in Chicago, Komarov said he was still getting accustomed to the new boots.
“It’s probably never going to be the same,” he said the other day, a little forlornly.
Other things have changed in Komarov’s world of late. The quadrilingual Finn opened the season on an offensive tear. Through his opening 32 games he scored 15 goals, an unsustainable pace that saw him nearly double the eight goals he scored in 62 games the season before, a total that was then his career high for an NHL season. But in Komarov’s 22 most recent games — a stretch that has included his first trip to the all-star game — he has managed just three goals, the third coming on an empty net in Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks.
“I need to do something out there. I’m not doing anything,” Komarov said last week. “I don’t know what happened. That’s what I’m trying to figure out. Sometimes it’s bouncing in, sometimes it’s not.”
Saturday’s game, which saw the Leafs snap a three-game losing streak, saw Komarov doing plenty beyond producing points, most notably playing key minutes on a penalty kill that held the Canucks to two shots on goal in six minutes with the manpower edge. Komarov, playing on the first line alongside Peter Holland and Michael Grabner, also antagonized the normally stoic Henrik Sedin into targeting him with a gloves-on punch that drew a roughing penalty. And along with tapping in that empty-netter, Komarov also zinged a wrist shot that beat Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller, only to hit the post.
“No luck, you know?” Komarov said after the game. “But it’s okay. Just need to keep working.”
Komarov’s relentlessness certainly sets an important standard for the procession of fresh-from-the-AHL prospects that have begun to populate the Toronto lineup. And it could also make him an attractive acquisition for a playoff-bound team between now and the Feb. 29 trade deadline.
“Anything can happen,” Komarov said.
If a player’s presence in any situation is ultimately fleeting, perhaps that’s why Komarov values the relative permanency of another piece of vintage gear in his locker. His jock strap, a Jofa model with a tattered waistband, is decidedly retro.
“It’s really, really old,” Komarov said.
He’s had it, he figures, since he was 15 or 16. At age 29, this particular plastic cup has been preserving his wellness for nearly half his life.
“Why wouldn’t I keep it?” he said. “It’s not broken yet, so it’s fine.”