Andreas Robanser Andreas Robanser
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Konstantin Komarek became the third Austrian to sign in the KHL when he joined Dinamo Riga in August. The 27-year-old forward spoke to about following defenseman Andre Lakos and goalie Bernd Brückler.

Early travels

Komarek started his hockey journey in his native Vienna with the long-established WEV club. Aged just 14, he made his debut in Austria’s second division, proving that he had the potential to go far in the game. So, in 2008, he went to Sweden to continue his development.

“My agent and I decided together: if I wanted to be really good at hockey, I would have to leave Austria,” Komarek said. “To this day, I am happy that I made the move.”

The youngster spent four seasons working his way through the ranks at Lulea HF, making his SHL debut in 2010-2011. But the end of that season brought a big disappointment: the Austrian was not selected at the NHL draft, despite his clear potential.

“Back then it was a setback for me,” Komarek admitted. “Things were looking pretty good and I had some very good conversations [with clubs]. At that age, getting drafted to the NHL is probably the greatest thing you can imagine.

“But with hindsight, I don't care about it because I don't think the NHL draft would have helped me in my career.”

A long-term injury kept Komarek off the ice for a time, but he returned in 2012 with Red Bull Salzburg back home in Austria. That was the start of a four-year spell in the EBEL (Erste Bank Ice Hockey League) which brought two championship wins and a record for the league’s fastest hat-trick – three goals in just 122 seconds.

“I was able to really develop during this time and I was able to get better in my attacking and power play. I think that was a very important step for me, I could have stayed in the Allsvenskan League in Sweden too, but in the in retrospect, I'm very happy that I made the step to Salzburg.”

But Austrian hockey was not a big enough stage for Komarek’s talents. With no desire to battle away in the American minor leagues, he returned to Sweden in 2016 and joined Malmö Redhawks. While he was there, he continued to play a big role on Austria’s national team, helping to win promotion to the IIHF World Championship Elite Pool for the 2018 tournament in Copenhagen – just over the water from Malmo – and contributing 5 (2+3) points as the Austrians survived in the top flight at the expense of Belarus.

Last season brought a return to Lulea after some ups and downs in Malmö. "I had a good start and scored well, but unfortunately I was out for two months due to an injury. When I came back it didn't work and so the move from Malmo to Lulea was good for everyone,” he said. “Malmö wanted another player and Lulea wanted me. There I continued where I left off before the injury. The first half of the season wasn't that good, the second half was much better and I'm happy with it and I can build on that now.”

Aiming high

But, like every athlete, Komarek wanted to play at the highest possible level. If the NHL was unattainable, that meant trying for the KHL.

"This is where I aspired to and the goal was to play there,” he said “I like the hockey that is played in the KHL and it is the second best league after the NHL. The KHL just has so many skilled individual players who would be capable of playing in the NHL too. You can see how many guys move to the NHL each year. It’s just a great league and I’m really looking forward to playing here.”

Although Riga is a new step in Komarek’s career, he has played alongside plenty of others with KHL experience. And the 27-year-old began building his dossier about the KHL and Dinamo Riga some time ago – making it an easy decision on and off the ice

“When I signed and moved my family to Riga, I didn’t feel like I needed a whole load of extra information,” he said. “I’ve already played against some of the guys here, for example against some Latvians in the national team and against Morgan Ellis in the SHL. When I've already played with players, it gives me a certain degree of security, but I'll make friends like in the other teams up to now and have a good time.

“And Riga is definitely a more attractive option than some of the cities in the east of Russia, where you are so much further from home. I didn’t have to choose between lots of different places, there were a few clubs showing and interest, but Riga is ideal for me and my family.”

The deal was in the works some time before the paperwork was signed off, with everyone waiting until Dinamo could confirm its involvement in the coming season. Now he’s looking forward to a successful campaign in Latvia.

“At Dinamo Riga, our goal is the playoffs,” he said. “I think if you look at the team, that is something we can achieve. There are strong Russian and North American players. The Latvian players are also good and I think that the composition of the team is very good. As I said, the playoff participation is the goal.

“Personally, I want to develop further and pick up where I left off and show my skills and strengths in this league too.”

First impressions of new head coach Peteris Skudra are also positive and even the daunting travel schedule isn’t anything to fear.

“The coach is very detail-oriented, tough and still very fair, the level is good and he does cool training sessions. He is tough, but I think that you have to be if you want to achieve good results,” Komarek said.

“And we know those road trips will be long and very hard. We always have blocks of home games and then road games – other leagues just aren’t like that. It will be exhausting, for sure, and the time zones will make it tough on the body, but I’m curious about how it’s going to be.”

Andreas Robanser Andreas Robanser
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