As told to: Liam CorcoranAfter a really good year with the Kitchener Rangers as a 19-year-old, I went home to PEI for the summer, not really sure what was going to happen next with my hockey career. I had lots of Junior ‘A’ teams calling me. I had some conversations with Bob Ertel, who was the GM in Kitchener at the time. We spoke about possibly going back there as an overage, but it never came to fruition. I ended up with an agreement to go to the PEI Senators (AHL) training camp. My agent at the time worked out a 25- game tryout with them. This is (probably) where I made my mistake. I decided not to take it and, instead, took a tryout that Dave Draper (a scout with the Colorado Avalanche) had set up. I got invited to Colorado’s training camp. I wanted to go to an NHL training camp instead of an American League thing. I decided that Colorado was the best option for me so I went there.
In retrospect, I probably should have just taken the tryout with PEI because I could have ended up signing there. They were looking for a local player. Turned it down and it never worked out. So I show up in Colorado. I’m 20 years old, from Charlottetown, PEI, and only been away for one year of my life before that. I was pretty immature at the time and I had no idea what to expect. I just remember going into the dressing room and all the big guys were there – Sakic, Forsberg, Ricci, Adam Deadmarsh. It’s the main camp, so I’m playing the first inter-squad game and I line up beside Owen Nolan.
He asked me “How’s it going?” and I said “I’m pretty nervous”. The puck dropped and I give him a hack in the back of the legs and kept going. I had a decent training camp; I had a few fights. They had another tough guy at the time, his name was Martin Laitre and he had something like 600 penalty minutes in the American Hockey League the next year. I fought him and a couple other guys, too. Training camp lasted seven days, and I got to hobnob with the guys and hang around with them. We all went to a major league baseball playoff game and I thought I was king of the world.
After the main camp, they sent most of the junior players back to junior and some of the other rookies back. Then they did a split-squad: half the guys went to Montreal and then half the guys went to Campbellton, NB. I was sent to Campbellton and ended up playing two exhibition games against the Calgary Flames. I fought in the first game against Jamie Allison and had an assist. In the second game I fought again. “Linger” (my childhood friend David Ling) was still up with Calgary at the time so I would have played against him, except he was hurt so he didn’t play. At the time, I was too immature to really know what was going on, but in my hockey career, it was probably the greatest experience of my life.
From there I was sent to Cornwall in the American League. Things didn’t work out there. I played a few exhibition games, then ended up not making it. I tried to get my 25-game tryout back on the table with the PEI Senators but they were already done with their training camp and it was no longer an option.
My roommate during the Colorado camp was Eric Messier. Messier and I were both signed as free agents. He played with Trois-Rivieres University and I was coming out of junior. They put us together in the same room and we were in the same situation: free agent invites, both trying out, both playing some forward, some D. He ended up making the team that year and I ended up getting cut. It could have been flip-flopped, me or him. Really, that’s how close it was.
At that time, Marc Crawford was the head coach. Bob Hartley was in the American League, and Joel Quenneville was an assistant coach. Over the years I’ve run into people who’ve made me realize that those guys were keeping an eye on me. I didn’t realize how close I was until Messier made the team. He ended up winning the job and signed a free agent contract with the Avalanche. He played there for about 10 years and won a Stanley Cup with them. That’s the way the world works, but it was cool to have the opportunity and it was probably the greatest hockey experience of my life.
LIAM CORCORAN is a musician and wannabe-writer who lives in Charlottetown, PEI.
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