A Black Belt Master

Quarantine Brings Out Hidden Talent from Max Comtois

Apr 27, 2020

By Andy Zilch/SanDiegoGulls.com

The hockey world continues to remain in quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic. During this unprecedented time, many are finding new hobbies or mastering old interests. 

For Gulls rookie forward Max Comtois, he is showcasing a talent only one of his teammates knew about. His hidden talent: a black belt in karate. While it is not hockey related, the 21-year old feels it has certainly helped his performance on and off the ice. 

“I feel like the parallel to hockey is to build a confidence in myself and my power,” said Comtois. “When it comes time to high-pressure games or important moments in the game, it gave me a pose. I like being under pressure, I like playing those types of games and especially in playoffs.”

The Longueuil, Quebec native began karate at a young age and seamlessly worked his way to black belt, the highest honor in the martial art. Prior to his tweet in early April displaying his talent, only childhood friend and current teammate Antoine Morand knew about this hidden talent. Comtois never boasted about this feat because reverence is something that the martial art teaches.

“I was really young when I started,” he said. “I got my black (belt) when I was 12 or 13 years old. I was a kid who had trouble managing anger so when I got in it, the first thing that helped me was the opportunity to spend energy, relax and focus on myself.”

That mental focus has helped him to where he is today in professional hockey. But it wasn’t as easy at it may have appeared. 

In 2018-19, Comtois spent the entire season with four different teams that spanned across Southern California, Quebec and a major international tournament. He began the season making the Anaheim Ducks roster where he appeared in 10 games with the NHL club. Following an injury, he spent four games with the Gulls in San Diego on a long-term injury conditioning loan. He then was assigned to Drummondville of the QMJHL. In December he was named captain of Team Canada’s World Junior Championship team that would participate on home soil in Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia. 

After returning to Drummondville to complete their season, he joined the Gulls in the midst of their Calder Cup Playoff run for Game 1 of the Pacific Division Finals, netting the game-winning goal in the fourth overtime of the fifth-longest game in AHL history. 

It was quite a whirlwind for the young player to get settled and acclimated to the level he was playing in. While he did gain a wealth of experience, especially during the Gulls postseason run, he was ready for full time action in the Anaheim Ducks system for the 2019-20 season.

“It was a little bit easier not doing the extra miles,” noted Comtois. “This was a different year, not the best year I had on a personal side. We all have that goal to play in Anaheim full time. I think I had some opportunities that I missed during that time.”

Now, the 21-year-old is ready for another jump. That next step being a full-time player in the NHL with the Ducks. Comtois has a 29-game sample with Anaheim this season posting five goals and six assists for 11 points. He displayed a large point total in the AHL with 24 points (9G/15A) in 31 AHL games. In addition, Comtois added 53 penalty minutes and his game featured a constant physical presence. His stature was widely recognized with the Gulls as the team went 15-0-2-0 when he recorded a point this season.

“When I got sent down the second time, and especially in the last couple of weeks of the season with the Gulls, my game really turned around and I took another step,” he reflected. “Personally, I was finding my groove. Staying in Southern California gave me that mindset that I wasn’t going to go back to Montreal. It was hard but there was a lot of learning experiences.”

Comtois’ game did indeed take a turn in the right direction with San Diego. Following his second reassignment to the Gulls on Jan. 16, he was named the CCM/AHL Player of the Week for the period ending on February 23. In four games that week, Comtois tallied five goals, three of which game-winning tallies, and seven points. Following that accomplishment, he earned the CCM/AHL Rookie of the Month honors. That timespan included eight goals, four game winners, and five assists for 13 points in 13 games. Individual efforts aside, the Gulls cruised to a 9-2-2 record that month. While he isn’t in the NHL, Comtois feels San Diego is the best situation for him to succeed in. 

“I think the AHL is a good step,” said Comtois. “In junior, where all those guys who play top minutes, and sometimes you’re not in the same role in the NHL or AHL. That happened to me in Anaheim. I played less minutes than I played in junior and that’s a part of the process. When I came to San Diego, the coaching staff really believed in me and gave me opportunities to gain ice time, play a little bit more and be in the same role I played in junior.”

“That really gave me confidence and that’s how I was able to turn my season around. That’s the big part of just having the extra ice time and having fun playing in the AHL with everyone who wants to be in Anaheim.”

While we all have time for self-reflection during quarantine, it gives everyone a chance to sort out their goals. For Comtois, he knows exactly what needs to be done and highly anticipating a chance to prove it once hockey resumes. 

For the time being, he will continue his skills, strength and kicking ability should anyone on the Gulls second-guess his black belt presence. 

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