The flight from Manitoba to New England is a long one, even longer when you’re travelling alone and have a lot to contemplate.
And so it was nine days ago for Patrice Cormier as he made his way from Winnipeg to Providence, R.I., where he would join the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps after a reassignment from the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets.
A day before, it had looked as if the 21-year-old Cormier had made the Jets after Winnipeg decided against signing free-agent tryout Troy Bodie. But the club then claimed centre Brett MacLean off waivers from the Phoenix Coyotes and Cormier was bumped off the season-opening roster and onto a plane travelling east.
“There was a lot of thinking that first day, especially on the plane. I got a little shot of reality, a little shot, but the truth is that it hit pretty hard at first,” said Cormier.
His wallet certainly suffered some damage. Cormier is on a two-way contract that would have paid him just over $600,000 this year in Winnipeg. In St. John’s, his AHL salary is $65,000 annually.
“You’d be lying if you said you didn’t think about that, but it really isn’t the biggest thing. It’s just another way you get reminded that you’re not there (in the NHL), and that’s what I really want.
“I felt pretty confident coming into camp and I thought I did pretty well.
“In some ways, it wasn’t a big surprise (to get sent down), because you always realize it can happen. But it still hurts.”
The trick, according to Cormier, is to kill the pain with positive thinking.
“I’m here now,” he said. “I’m going to do all I can do to be as positive as I can because that’s what’s going to get me back up there.
“I can’t cry or whine or say I don’t want to be here.”
After getting the news of his demotion from Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, the first person Cormier called was his father in Cap Pele, N.B.
“He’s a positive guy. He told me, ‘You’ve done it before. You’ve come back from injuries. You’ve came back from a 31-game suspension. You can come back from this.’
“He’s a truck driver and he works hard. Always has. He’s my example. I need to put my head down and work hard and work a lot. That’s what I’m going to do.”
Cormier finished out last season with the Atlanta Thrashers, appearing in a total of 19 NHL games in 2010-11 and scoring his first NHL goal in the process, but in total he has appeared in only about 60 games over the last two seasons. Injuries, which have troubled him throughout his career, subtracted quite a few and then there was that aforementioned suspension.
In January of 2010, Cormier had just returned from his second stint with Canada’s world junior team, this time as captain, and was looking forward to a playoff run with the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, who had acquired him in a blockbuster Christmas trade with the Rimouski Oceanic.
But in his third game with the Huskies Cormier felled Quebec Remparts defenceman Mikael Tam with an elbow to the head as he skated through the neutral zone. The hit left Tam convusling on the ice before he was sent to the hospital to be treated for a a severe head injury.
The Remparts filed a criminal complaint and nine months later, Cormier pleaded guilty to a charge of assault causing bodily harm and received an unconditional discharge.
In the interim, Cormier was suspended for the rest of the 2009-10 QMJHL season and the playoffs, a total of 31 games.
He may be a world junior gold medal winner, a second-round draft pick (54th overall by he New Jersey Devils in 2009) and a player whose talents are such that he was playing junior A hockey in Moncton, N.B., as a 14-year-old, but as it stands, the first thing most hockey fans think of when they hear Cormier’s name is the Tam hit.
“I know and it’s something I regret, It’s something I want to change. The main thing is that he (Tam) is OK,” said Cormier, whose NHL rights were sent from the Devils to the Thrashers, as part of the Ilya Kovalchuk trade.
Tam, meanwhile, recovered and played toward the end of 2009-10 season and is now among the highest-scoring rearguards in the QMJHL.
“I think for people back home (in New Brunswick), they talk about other things when it comes to me. People there were happy I played with Atlanta and got my first NHL goal.
“But for others, yeah, they bring it up.”
“(IceCaps goalie) David Aebischer never saw what happened and I showed him and he went, ‘Ohh,’ and I went, ‘Ohh, yeah.’
“It’s part of (my history). But I want to give people other things to talk about.”
To do that, he knows he’ll have to get back to the NHL and find a permanent place.
“I’m still young and I’m not the first guy to be going through this and I won’t be the last. The big thing is that it’s up to me to change things, and I am sure I can do it.”