by Lindsey Willhite || AHL On The Beat Archive
The first meeting between Pat and Natalie Cannone wasn’t exactly ripped from the pages of a romance novel.
It happened a few days before their freshman year at Miami University in 2007. Natalie, a Columbus, Ohio, native focused on psychology and fashion, was walking on the Oxford campus. Pat, a Long Island, N.Y., native focused on hockey, was riding in his buddy’s car. You might be able to tell where this is going. Whatever might a glib Long Island guy do in this situation?
“I was crossing the street and he rolled down the window and said something,” Natalie said. “I kind of just ignored it. Freshman hockey players at Miami don’t exactly have the best reputation.”
“That was me and a bunch of buddies kind of being idiots,” Pat said with a laugh.
So that didn’t turn out to be their love connection. Pat and Natalie’s second accidental encounter went a little better, but probably no more than a 4 on the romance scale.
One of the Miami hockey team’s traditions calls for the freshmen to spend a full day — classes and all — wearing a helmet and a white T-shirt. Each player must meet as many girls as possible and fill up the shirt with phone numbers.
“You explain to them you’re on the hockey team, that you’re having a party the next day,” Pat said. “Then you call them in the morning and basically recruit them to the party that night. It’s a nice networking tool.”
Charismatic Pat pursued his task with gusto. He hit the freshman dorms and walked down the halls knocking on every door. When Natalie answered, she complied with his request. At the end of the day, on a shirt riddled with digits, Natalie’s number stood out.
“When she put her number on my shirt, she actually put a big heart around it,” Pat said. “She was the only girl to do that. Obviously, at the time I didn’t think much of it. But it’s funny to see that now — with where we are.”
Where they are is living in wedded bliss in downtown Chicago. Though they waited to start dating until their freshman year was nearly over (remember Natalie’s caveat about freshman hockey players?), they have been a couple ever since. They became engaged last August, when Pat proposed privately in Lincoln Park — then steered Natalie to an Old Town bar where 30 of their friends waited in secret to celebrate with them.
After a year’s worth of planning, Pat Cannone and Natalie Warner exchanged vows at the gorgeous Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus, Ohio, on Aug. 16, 2014. The ceremony, performed not too far from the Blooms & Butterflies exhibition, was conducted with 10 groomsmen and bridesmaids flanking them on the grounds where Natalie always envisioned her wedding.
“My sister is an artist,” Natalie said. “When I was growing up, we would always go and look at the art there. I’ve always loved it. It’s beautiful. We were able to have our ceremony, cocktail hour and reception all at the same place.”
The newlyweds enjoyed a honeymoon in Maui before returning to Ohio to hang with family and friends before hockey season began. Pat scheduled workouts at Miami’s rink to make sure he was in top shape for camp.
That plan brought a smile to the faces of Wolves head coach John Anderson and general manager Wendell Young, who believe Cannone’s improved conditioning in 2013-14 helps explain why he enjoyed his finest season as a pro.
Despite missing 16 games with a broken finger suffered on Jan. 21 at Utica — Cannone was hit flush by an Evan Oberg slap shot, yet finished the game without complaint before undergoing X-rays that revealed the fracture — he produced 16 goals and 18 assists in 59 games while centering the third line. He also paced the Wolves with a plus/minus rating of +24.
“I think he had to change his conditioning a little bit, bring his body fat down a little bit,” Young said. “That’s all part of the process. That’s what elevated his game. I think that was the only thing holding him back.
“At the beginning of the season, I probably wasn’t in 100 percent tip-top shape,” Cannone said. “It was an adjustment for me at the beginning. The Wolves were a new organization, a new team for me. But as the season went along, my conditioning was great.”
And the production followed. During his 39 games before the broken finger, Cannone posted eight goals, seven assists and a plus-9 rating. After the injury, Cannone teamed up with Shane Harper and Michael Davies to form a high-scoring line. He delivered eight goals, 11 assists and a plus-15 rating in his 20 final regular-season games.
“Arguably, their line might have been our best line for the last month-and-a-half, two months of the season,” Young said. “The central guy on that line was Patrick. He’s a player that brought skill to the table, but also over the course of the year became a really good two-way player.
He was very, very responsible in his own end. I think he’s just coming into his own.”
Between his outstanding season for the Wolves, his love for Natalie, and their shared love of Chicago — she moved to the Windy City two years before he did to pursue a career in fashion merchandising — Pat described it as a “no-brainer” to re-sign with the organization in the offseason and return to the Wolves.
They spend their free time romping with their cute cockapoo, Roman (“He’s our pride and joy,” Pat said), hanging out by the lakefront (which reminds him of growing up on Long Island near the water), and enjoying the young professional life in the city.
On the ice, everyone expects Pat to enjoy a career-best season. While line combinations can shift at a moment’s notice, Anderson envisions Cannone and Harper teaming up again this year.
“He’s going to be on the power play. He’s going to kill penalties,” Anderson said. “He should have a very big year. I think he can score 25-30 goals.”
Pat has yet to score more than 26 goals in a season — accomplished way back in 2004-05 during his first year with the New England Jr. Falcons in the Eastern Junior Hockey League — but he embraces the challenge.
“I think they’re right,” he said. “I think there’s more room for improvement on the offensive side, so that’s something I’m going to try to focus on this summer. Twenty-five or 30 would be great.”