by Julie Robenhymer | AHL On The Beat
Three weeks ago, Evan Cormier was sitting at home enjoying his holiday break from the University of Guelph, trying to relax and rest up for the second half of the season.
Last Friday, he signed his first professional contract with the Binghamton Devils after going 4-1-0 with a .933 save percentage and a 2.09 goals-against average — including a shutout — in his first six appearances as a pro.
He credits being in the right place at the right time and being prepared for the opportunity.
Cormier was selected by the New Jersey Devils in the fourth round in 2016, his second time through the NHL Draft. However, when it came time to sign him this summer, there just weren’t enough spots in the goal crease when the music stopped.
“It was more of a numbers game, more than anything,” said Devils development coach and resident goalie guru Scott Clemmensen. “It was disappointing for him and we still thought very high of him, so it was a little disappointing for us too. We just didn’t have a spot for him at the time.”
Cormier used the disappointment to fuel his competitive fire and doubled down on his training efforts this summer. He wasn’t sure what was going to happen next — if he would find a spot with another team or play for the University of Guelph — but he was certain he’d be prepared to walk through whatever door opened next.
“[Not being signed by New Jersey] definitely changed my mindset and made me not be complacent,” the 21-year-old said. “I’m always trying to improve every part of my game because it can all be better and it just made me more motivated to never give up. I pushed myself to the limits this year and I want to keep that kind of attitude all the time because, especially as a goalie. There are only two goalies on each team and only one net. You have to earn your spot between the pipes every day.”
Cormier enrolled at Guelph with the intention of studying criminal justice and eventually joining the police force if a hockey career didn’t pan out. But after a strong first half of the season with a .926 save percentage and 2.27 GAA in 13 university games, he was looking for some career advice.
While at home for their holiday break, he gave Clemmensen a call.
“I wanted to chat with him on a personal level,” he explained. “I had talked to him so much while I was [in their system] and I really trusted him to be straight with me. I wanted to see what I could try to do to improve my game and find a way to get back to the pro level and I was also curious if they were still keeping an eye on me.”
The timing couldn’t have been better.
“He beat me to it,” Clemmensen said with a chuckle. “I had meant to give him a shout and see how things were going at school. We had just received news that Eddie Lack was going to be lost for the season and [Mackenzie] Blackwood got called up and we were trying to sort out what we needed to do to get a goalie in Binghamton. We, as an organization, had already talked about the possibility of bringing him in and then before I could call him to see if he might be interested, he called me.”
Cormier was excited about the possibility of signing an amateur tryout contract, but wanted to talk it over with his family and agent before signing it. Because even if he was with the team for just two weeks, he’d be giving up the education package he earned while playing in the Ontario Hockey League with Saginaw.
“It was tough for me to leave school, but this was a really hard opportunity to pass up,” he explained. “At the end of the day, I want to be a pro hockey player and this is where I want to be. I’m really happy to be here and finally be part of the organization.”
He joined the Binghamton Devils in Belleville on Dec. 29 and even played in his first game, saving all 21 shots he faced in nearly 45 minutes in net.
“We threw him right off the deep end from the get go,” head coach Mark Dennehy said. “[Cam Johnson] had his third start in four nights and was a little tired and didn’t get off to a good start and I just thought, ‘Why not put him out there. Let’s see what we’ve got.’ And he came in and closed the door. Anytime you put a goaltender in that position — coming off the bench — you’ll see pretty quickly what he’s made of and he was great.”
Cormier said he was speechless after the game. Binghamton lost 3-2, but he was really proud of the way he played and what he was able to accomplish by playing in his first professional game.
“Now that I’m here, I’m really just trying to have fun and enjoy the pro life and learn every day. I really tried to amp up my game and get it to this level this summer and, right now, I’m really confident in my abilities and I’m just trying to stick to what I’m doing and keep it going. I’m not worrying so much about what happens next and just trying to focus on what’s happening now and controlling what I can control.”
Having a previous relationship with his teammates and the coaching staff from development and rookie camps the past two years has given him a certain level of confidence and helped him be more comfortable, but he’s also taken his game to a new level.
“We always thought highly of Evan and seeing him again, you can see he’s made some improvements in certain areas, especially in some of the areas we had suggested to him and we really liked that and that he worked so hard this summer to prepare seriously for whatever door opened for him next. Just so happened that door was ours.” Clemmensen said.
“He’s leaner and more physically mature. He’s quicker in all aspects and you see it in how quickly he recovers and scrambles and moves post-to-post and down low, even his puck handling is better,” he continued. “He’s just more of a complete goalie and he gets a lot of credit from me because he did all of this on his own. He wasn’t signed with anyone and didn’t have someone working with him and telling him what to do and how to get better. He did it all on his own. We’ve very happy to have him back and even more so about the potential he has and where he could go from here.”
Two days after his first professional shutout, a 35-save effort against Syracuse on Jan. 9, Cormier turned his tryout into an entry-level contract and signed on the dotted line to be with the Devils for the rest of the season.
“This is a big step for me and I’m really excited to be part of this organization right now,” he said. “I can’t really think about what the future might hold, but I’m just trying to use this opportunity to my advantage and make the most of it. Everyone has a different path to pro hockey and I’m just really glad I stuck with it. This is amazing.”