Corazzini rekindles the dream in Norfolk

by Keith Phillips || AHL On The Beat Archive

Lots of kids grow up dreaming of the chance to don the sweater of their favorite National Hockey League team and to play in the arenas that their heroes skated in. Very few actually live their dream. Nearly three years ago, Carl Corazzini did just that by playing in a Boston Bruins uniform.

The third-year pro from nearby Framingham, Mass., was called up from the American Hockey League’s Providence Bruins on Jan. 15, 2004 – a date Corazzini recalls as “the greatest day of my life.” He scored his first two NHL goals against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden five days later.

Two summers later, Corazzini’s dream had turned into a nightmare.

The 5-foot-9, 176-pound right wing was running out of options to continue his professional hockey career. He had concluded his fourth pro season with the Hershey Bears five months earlier, and did not have any offers on the table to play in the 2005-06 season.

“I didn’t think I’d have any trouble getting at least an AHL contract,” said Corazzini. “I thought by NHL training camp time I’d have at least a tryout. But I didn’t, and it definitely stung a little bit.”

Corazzini, who had 55 goals and 44 assists in 255 pro games at the time, was preparing to try out for a United Hockey League team to start the season. Former Admirals winger Mike Souza – a friend and off-season workout partner of Corazzini’s – changed that when he brought Corazzini’s status to the attention of Admirals general manager Al MacIsaac.

“Mike called looking for a job himself,” said Corazzini. “But Mike was a veteran [by AHL rules, a player with more than 260 pro games played], and Al asked if he had any friends still kicking around that weren’t veterans. Mike gave him my name and number.”

MacIsaac called Corazzini and signed him to a tryout contract in the third week of the season.

“Looking at what he could do skating-wise and the fact that he played some really good games against us in Norfolk with Providence and Hershey, I thought that he would be a great addition,” said MacIsaac.

Corazzini arrived in Norfolk expecting to continue the third-line and penalty-killing roles he had grown accustomed to as a pro. Admirals head coach Mike Haviland, who also coached Corazzini in 2002-03 with Atlantic City of the ECHL, had other ideas for how Corazzini might help a Norfolk team that was struggling to score goals at times.

“Speed kills, and Carl had a lot of it,” said Haviland. “He had a ton of speed and a desire to go to the net with the puck. I told him that we were going to give him every opportunity to use that, whether it be power play, shorthanded or even strength.”

“When I came in,” Corazzini said, “the first thing that Havi said was, ‘I know you’re not used to being a goal scorer, but you’re going to have to do it for us.’ He stuck me on the first line and gave me a chance to play the point on the power play.”

Corazzini delivered in his new role and earned a permanent contract with the Admirals in late November. Once a line with Corazzini, Mark Cullen and Quintin Laing gelled in early December, the Admirals began to erase a shaky start to the season with a climb in the East Division standings.

“At times,” Haviland said, “he carried this team. He was exactly what we needed.”

Corazzini finished the season fourth on the team in scoring with career highs in goals (26), assists (29) and points (55). Despite having limited power play experience prior to his time in Norfolk, he netted 13 man-advantage markers – good for the second most on the club.

“All of the credit goes to [Mike Haviland] for seeing offensive ability in me because I hadn’t done it before at the pro level,” Corazzini said. “Getting a chance to play with Mark Cullen and Quintin Laing gave me a lot of confidence. I got lucky.”

MacIsaac thought that the luck went both ways. “By the end of the season, we realized that not only was he lucky, but we were lucky also. It was definitely a win-win for Norfolk and Carl.”

One summer after wondering if his pro career was in jeopardy, Corazzini didn’t have to wait too long for a suitor to come calling for his services. He signed a one-year deal with the Admirals’ NHL parent club, the Chicago Blackhawks, on July 17.

The 2006-07 season started with Corazzini on a tear in Norfolk, potting six goals and six assists in the first seven games of the campaign. Once considered a checking forward with limited offensive capabilities, Corazzini scored in all situations with two even-strength, two power-play and two shorthanded goals in that stretch to help the Admirals to their best start in team history.

Corazzini contributes his success this season to being comfortable with his surroundings in Norfolk. “I enjoy the people that I’m around down here,” Corazzini said. “It’s important to have fun coming to the rink. We have a lot of fun, and obviously we win.”

Corazzini’s importance to Norfolk extends off the ice, as well. The Admirals’ alternate captain provides an example of perseverance for a younger group of hockey players yearning to fulfill their dreams of making it to the NHL.

“He knows what it’s like to be in the lower leagues looking for that opportunity to get to the next level,” said MacIsaac. “He’s demonstrated to the younger guys what it takes to make it and to stay in pro hockey.”

On Sunday, Corazzini returned to the Admirals from his first call-up to the NHL since 2004. He played four games for the Blackhawks and saw time in all game situations.

“I look back at a year earlier when I almost signed with [a UHL team] and think, ‘This has been a long journey.’ To go from the United League to the NHL – it all happened so fast.”

While he may not have been living his childhood fantasies in a Bruins uniform, Corazzini was still satisfied with his latest trip back to the NHL and the path that his hockey journey had taken.

“After nearly starting the last year in the United League as my only option for a job, I took a lot of pride in the call-up this time,” said Corazzini. “This one was more satisfying because of the amount of work that went into it.”

Pay attention, kids – Carl Corazzini is showing you how to make your dreams come true.