by Samantha Wood || for NHL.com
For Philippe Cornet, this has been a year of firsts.
His first NHL game, his first NHL point, his first AHL All-Star appearance, and his first … rodeo?
The Val-Senneville, Que., native, in his second year with the Edmonton Oilers organization after being drafted in the fifth round in 2008, has assimilated into the southern cowboy culture of Oklahoma City while playing for the Oilers’ American Hockey League affiliate.
Spending some of his free time fishing and taking in the local entertainment, Cornet says he’s well-established in his second home.
“I love it down here,” he said. “The weather is great and the people are friendly and awesome. I’ve never lived in any other cities in the States besides this one, but I wouldn’t go anywhere else.”
And Oklahoma City seems to love him back. The left wing currently leads the team in goals with 22, including 10 on the power play, and is tied for the AHL lead with six game-winners.
With 22 goals and 32 points, he has already far surpassed offensive output from his rookie 2010-11 season, when he registered 7-16-23 in 60 games for the Barons.
“I think when I came this year, I had a lot more confidence and I just feel better on the ice overall,” Cornet said of his offensive growth. “I’ve been getting a lot more ice time too – I play on the power play, which I didn’t last year.
“Last year I probably just stayed more on the outside,” he admitted. “I wouldn’t go in those gritty areas like in front of the net and get those rebounds and compete for loose pucks, which I’m doing this year and I’m getting more goals like that.”
In addition to his “more aggressive” attitude, Cornet also attributes his individual success to the strength of the Barons as a whole. In only their second season, Oklahoma City is firmly at the top of AHL’s Western Conference with a 35-15-2-3 record and 75 points, and gearing up for a long playoff run after a first-round exit last spring.
“Having a good team helps for sure,” Cornet said. “This year, we have a lot of depth. You can play on the first line or on the fourth line, but you’re still going to play with good players.”
The Barons’ roster depth was evident in this year’s AHL All-Star selections. With four players and one coach named to the Western Conference team, Oklahoma City was better represented than any other AHL club. Alongside Cornet, goaltender Yann Danis, forward Ryan Keller, defenseman Alex Plante and head coach Todd Nelson all made the trip to Atlantic City, N.J.
“It was a great experience and a great honor for me,” Cornet said of the weekend. “When I started this season, being in the All-Star Game wasn’t part of my plans whatsoever,” Cornet said. “But it just shows how good of a team we are.”
Before the game on Jan. 30, Nelson gave Cornet even more good news: He was being recalled by Edmonton.
After helping the West to an 8-7 shootout victory, Cornet grabbed an early flight to Edmonton and made his NHL debut against the Colorado Avalanche. Registering over 10 minutes of ice time, he contributed an assist – his first NHL point – in the 3-2 Oilers victory.
“Just being at All-Star was a lot of excitement and then being called up, that was unreal,” Cornet said. “For sure, I wasn’t expecting having my first point in my first game. But then on my second shift, having my first assist, I couldn’t ask for any better for my first game.”
After two games with the Oilers – and two wins – Cornet traveled the almost 1,500 miles back to Oklahoma City, where he has since remained, notching point after point and preparing for the AHL playoff push.
“My main goal is the Calder Cup,” he said. “We often talk about in the room. Next year we won’t have the same team so what we have right now is something special. I think everyone’s on board; everyone thinks the same way too.
“That’s what we want,” he continued. “It’s something you’re never going to forget, something that you don’t have the chance to win every year. I think this year we have all the tools in place to win it, and hopefully we will.”