By all rights, Dave Cornacchia should probably be playing professional hockey in the United States.
A veteran of the North American game, the undrafted Toronto native has appeared in 138 American Hockey League and 186 ECHL regular-season games since wrapping up his junior career with the Belleville Bulls in 2001.
But instead of riding a bus across the U.S. toiling in the minors, Cornacchia has a seat on a coach line that only travels across Newfoundland, as a member of the Mount Pearl H.J. Bartlett Electric Blades.
“Obviously, my playing career is at a different point (now) playing senior hockey,” the 31-year-old says, “but I’ve met a lot of great people along the way, travelled the world and built many great relationships. I’m happy with the career I’ve gone through and I don’t regret one minute of it.”
That’s not entirely true.
There are several minutes from one day in particular which Cornacchia regrets. A day which, in some ways, cost him his professional career.
During the 2007-2008 season, Cornacchia was back in North America after a season abroad, split between the Austrian national league and German elite league, and a member of the ECHL’s Florida Everblades. By the time holiday season rolled around, Cornacchia was the Everblades’ leading scorer among defencemen and was quickly becoming a fan favourite.
On Dec. 27, 2007, after a visit home during the Christmas break, Cornacchia boarded an American Airlines flight from Toronto bound for Dallas, Tex., where he was to rejoin his team on a road trip. When the plane touched down, Cornacchia left the aircraft in restraints and in the custody of the FBI.
Affidavits filed in U.S. federal court say when Cornacchia was denied a third alcoholic beverage by a flight attendant, he proceeded to slap the attendant with an open hand. It goes on to state that while the attendant and passengers were helping to restrain him, Cornacchia head-butted one of the passengers.
The plane made an emergency landing at Dallas-Fort Worth airport where Cornacchia was arrested and later charged with interfering with a flight crew.
Cornacchia was released from custody and went on to finish his season with the Everblades and was even picked up by the AHL’s Albany River Rats for a seven-game playoff stint.
But not long after the hockey season ended, Cornacchia was back in a Naples, Fla., courtroom to answer for his actions. Rather than drag the matter through an extensive and expensive court process, the-then 27-year-old pled guilty to his charges.
In the investigation process, Cornacchia admitted to having had consumed a number of alcoholic beverages while waiting for his flight to depart, this on top of the two sleeping aid pills he also consumed.
In late July, he was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison. He was released from prison in March 2009.
Today, Cornacchia is guarded when talking about the incident and his incarceration.
“It was a day that happened, I can’t really change what happened,” he says. “It was an experience and I definitely wasn’t happy about it.
“But I’m here now and happy to be playing hockey still.”
And the Blades are happy to have him.
“He’s as good as any D-man in the league,” said Blades general manager Jim Hare. “He’s got an offensive upside, he’s strong defensively, and he’s protective of his teammates.
“He texts me during the week saying, ‘Can’t wait for the weekend.’ He doesn’t just come in and grab the money and run. He’s a real team guy and the guys love him.”
Corn Dog, as he been dubbed by his Mount Pearl teammates, came to the Blades by way of player-turned-coach-turned-player-again, Mark Chaplin. The two played junior hockey together in Belleville.
When Chaplin called, Cornacchia jumped at the chance to get back into a competitive game.
“I wasn’t doing much last year, other than the hockey development,” says Cornacchia, who operates a hockey school with his brother, Anthony, Monday to Friday in the Greater Toronto Area, “and playing in a men’s league with a bunch of buddies doesn’t really cut it.
“Being part of a team and the camraderie is something I missed and I’m happy to be here and playing a good game.
“It’s really good hockey ... fast-paced, and there’s a physical side to it. A lot of the guys here, you could put them in the lineups in the ECHL and the AHL and they wouldn’t be out of place.”
In 16 games with the Blades, Cornacchia has one goal and seven assists and 45 penalty minutes.