It was a banner year for the St. John’s IceCaps’ 22-year-old centre, Patrice Cormier, last season. Not that he hit the 20-goal mark (Cormier came close with 18) or register 50 points (he managed 33 in 56 games), or even accumulate 100 penalty minutes (though he did sit for 75).
Rather, Cormier finally strung together a full season, that in itself an accomplishment for a player who hasn’t played a whole heck of a lot the past couple of years.
“Outside of playing in Winnipeg, my whole mindset at training camp last year was to play a full season, to get in 60 or 70 games,” Cormier said this week. “I want to play every game, I want to be out there every day.
“I’m really happy I stayed healthy, and hopefully that can continue again this season.”
Cormier made 56 starts as an IceCap last season, appeared in nine games for the NHL’s Jets and then started 15 post-season contests for St. John’s.
In 2010-11, Cormier’s rookie season as a professional didn’t exactly get off to a rip-roaring start when he was sidelined with a broken foot in training camp.
He returned to play in 21 games with the Atlanta Thrashers and another 11 with the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves.
The previous season, Cormier opened with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Rimouski Oceanic, and captained Canada at the world junior hockey championship. After returning to junior hockey, to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies who had traded for the big forward, Cormier’s season come to an abrupt end when he elbowed Mikael Tam in the head, a blow which left the Quebec Remparts forward convulsing on the ice.
Cormier was suspended for the remainder of the 2009-10 QMJHL regular season and playoffs, a total of 31 games.
“So getting a full season in last year was big ... big for my development, my confidence, everything.
“We went deep in the playoffs, and I had a chance to play every situation, and I had a chance to go to Winnipeg and show what I can do there.
“But I can’t say I’m satisfied. I’m trying to improve every day.”
A highly-valued prospect within the Jets’ organization, Cormier will bring a healthy dose of belligerence to the ice when the IceCaps open their season this weekend with a pair of games in Springfield, Mass. Saturday night and in Hartford, Conn. Sunday afternoon.
In other words, this banger and crasher won’t be mistaken for a finisher.
“We felt as an organization that Cormier made good strides development-wise last season,” said St. John’s coach Keith McCambridge, “finding his identity as to what kind of player he is going to be. For me, Corms has to find that consistency in his game and the consistency he needs is to play with that edge all night.
“He’s a big, strong, physical man so he needs to be that guy who is hard to play against. He’s a physical presence and when he plays that way you can see the reason why he’s a high-end NHL prospect.”
Cormier has been under the microscope for a while, even as far back to when he was a 14-year-old playing junior A hockey in Moncton, to when he was being considered for exceptional player status and allowed to play major junior hockey at 15.
But his game has changed since then. He’s grown to 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds and while he doesn’t completely have cement hands, his game isn’t about scoring goals.
Instead, the New Brunswick native looks to help his team and impress management with the grunt work — like finishing checks and blocking shots.
“I want to be a dominant force game in and game out, be a strong two-way guy,” he says. “I want to score goals, and I want to contribute offensively, but that’s not my main goal. My main goal is to go out there and play hard, finish my hits and when I play like that, the goals and assists will come.”