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Higgins and Komisarek Bring a lot of History to Canucks Development Camp

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Vancouver Canucks, Chris Higgins
NHL winger Chris Higgins played for the Vancouver Canucks from 2011 t0 2016.

They’re buddies from a long time ago, relatively speaking, Vancouver Canucks player development employees Chris Higgins and Mike Komisarek. In what is a small hockey world where we often point out bizarre examples, these two simply started out on the ice as kids on Long Island, New York. Proof the Police Athletic League (PAL) programs that have been in place for decades around the United States can bring about great things.

Higgins, who played 324 regular season games with the Vancouver Canucks and finished his playing career with the franchise in 2016, is somewhat responsible for the arrival of Komisarek, who played 551 NHL games with the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Carolina Hurricanes. Besides being childhood pals, they played four full seasons together with Montreal.

“We literally grew up training together our whole lives,” Higgins said, “playing in our Suffolk minor program, then he went off to Michigan, I went off to Yale, and then ended up reuniting with the Habs, going back-to-back first-rounders for Montreal and playing six seasons together, two in the minors and four with the Habs.”

OK, so that is pretty bizarre after all, Komisarek went 7th-overall in 2001 and Higgins went 14th-overall in 2002.

Up until three years ago when Komisarek’s dad finally retired as an auto mechanic, Chris’s parents still took their cars to his shop to be serviced. While Higgins father was a New York City fireman.

“We kind of grew up with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder, we really had no one to look up to who had made it, we were kind of the ones paving the way for Long Island hockey,” Higgins said. “No one was ever going to tell us we didn’t work hard enough to play in the NHL, someone might have told us we weren’t good enough, but no one was ever going to tell us we didn’t work hard enough, and we had a strong group that trained together in the summers and we pushed each other to get better.”

That becomes their modern player development task now, with the assistance of a dynamic, expanded group with former Vancouver Canucks winger and Stanley Cup winner in Detroit Mikael Samuelsson, Cammi Granato, and the Sedin twins.

“We strongly welcome the collaborative effort of this group,” Higgins said.

Higgins began his post-playing-career when Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning invited him out for development camp in 2019. Two elements of the gig hooked him almost immediately. It felt great to literally be back around the game again after mostly working with and getting to know guys around the Canucks Alumni Association, and it also meant a chance to pay it forward.

“I’m going into my fourth year and you start to see some of the guys you worked with play in the National (Hockey) League and have some success, that’s the cool part about it for me, is to watch these kids go through some of the experiences I had that are so emotionally powerful, like scoring your first goal or getting your first call up,” Higgins said. “Seeing some of those early career successes and to have some hand in it and have a relationship with the guys, I find that part of the job extremely gratifying and that’s why I have such strong interest in the position.”

Based on his excellent working relationship with his “phenomenal mentor” Ryan Johnson, the GM of the Abbotsford Canucks and Assistant to the GM in Vancouver, Higgins wasn’t exactly nervous about the changes that occurred last December when Benning was let go, although he completely understood the chance of new GM Patrik Allvin wanting to change things up.

“They’ve won Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh so obviously there’s a trust factor with the guys they brought over with good reason, and that’s what we’re trying to change here, get back to that winning culture, and what that actually means day-to-day for guys holding themselves accountable,” Higgins said.

He experienced what he referred to as ‘an accountability level that most guys had never seen before”, when joining the Vancouver Canucks at the trade deadline in time for their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011.

“Some of the leadership we had with those good teams, we had eight or nine guys that could have been captain of that team, and that’s what you see with the good teams that win,” Higgins added. “We’ve got to get everyone pulling the rope in the same direction and it seems like the last couple years we’ve been pulling not all in the same direction.”

This week, Higgins and Komisarek, about three decades after meeting for the first time, will once again be pulling on that hockey rope together.

VHN Managing Editor Rob Simpson has been covering the NHL for three decades on live TV, radio, and as a journalist. He worked his first ever game getting postgame sound as a teenager; it was Vancouver vs. Detroit.

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