Saginaw Spirit defenseman Matt Corrente grew up playing hockey in Mississauga, Ontario. He got a late jump in the sport, but by the time he was 8 years old, he had to choose between hockey and soccer. As we all know, hockey won out. He continued his career by playing in the GTHL. During the 2003-04, his last in the league, he played with the Vaughn Vipers in junior A. Later that spring, the Saginaw Spirit, in the 2004 OHL Priority Selection selected him with the second overall pick.
Corrente joined the Spirit for the 2004-05 season and has been fortunate to have some help on the way as he has transformed into one of the top defensemen the OHL has to offer at this year’s NHL Entry Draft. He is the 35th ranked North American skater according to Central Scouting’s final rankings.
Hockey’s Future caught up with Corrente just days before the draft.
HF: Did you have any obstacles along the way?
MC: I don’t really think so to be honest. I was playing on the top teams back in the GTHL and that helped my development a lot. When I came to the OHL, it was different. I mean, you have 15-year-olds playing against 20-year-olds. That was a big jump, but I think I’ve done well so far.
HF: When did you realize that you could make a hockey a career?
MC: I would say about two or three years before my draft year. Jim Thomson pulled me aside and said, ‘If you’re serious about making this a career, you have to decide right now.’ That is when I stepped it up, started working out hard ever summer and became really focused.
HF: How big was it for someone like Jim to come along and push you in the right direction so to speak?
MC: I was very fortunate to have someone, especially someone who had played in the NHL give me that advice. His words were deep on me and they took effect. I was really thankful he said that.
HF: How much did things change after that point?
MC: I focused more and I was constantly working to get better.
HF: How big of an on-ice difference was there in your first year with Saginaw during the 2004-05 season?
MC: Guys are a lot bigger and a lot faster. You have less time to hold onto the puck. It was a big step, but playing in junior A definitely helped me out.
HF: How big of a difference is there when you’re 15 years old playing against guys five years older than you? Is there the size and skill intimidating?
MC: There’s a big difference in size, skill, but it’s more the experience from being in the league. Experience has to weigh more than size and skill. I did well and things work out well.
HF: What were some of the first things you noticed when you came into the league?
MC: When I came into Saginaw, I knew they were a class A organization from the get go. It was great from the start. They treat everyone really professional, everyone knows their own role on the ice and we have to get ‘er done every night.
HF: How did you respond to that right off the bat?
MC: It’s been a professional environment all the time I’ve been there. Everyone is doing their job and they all expect you to do your job as well. It really makes you want to put that responsibility on yourself. Now, everyone in Saginaw is on the same page and we’re coming back for a big year next season.
HF: At what point in your rookie season did you feel comfortable, if at all?
MC: I would say around Christmas of that season. I had a lot of help from Paul Bissonnette (PIT). He was eventually traded over to Owen Sound, but he helped me a lot those first few months. He took me under his wing and showed me how to get it done. We would stay after practice and he would show me how to work on the things that I would need night in and night out.
HF: Bissonnette’s name seems to come up a lot around the league. What is it about Paul that makes him so valuable?
MC: He’s such a team guy. He’ll do just about anything for his teammates. I still keep in touch with him to this day. Matter of fact, I spoke to him earlier. To hear where he’s at and what he has earned is a good motivational tool I use to push myself.
HF: Because this past season was your draft year, did you change your focus and/or approach in any way?
MC: Maybe a little. I felt a lot more stress than anything else with the scouts watching me closely every night. It’s part of the process though. I just went out there and played my game and hopefully it was good enough that I kept on catching their eyes. Through all of it, the team comes first though.
HF: Obviously that weight was added to your daily routine, but how did your role on the team and on the ice change in a matter of a year?
MC: I came back I found myself in a bigger leadership role on the backend compared to my rookie season. It’s been coming along and I welcome the opportunity to be a leader. Looking ahead, I think we have a good chance to make a lot of noise in Saginaw.
HF: You also had the opportunity to play alongside Patrick McNeill (WAS) this past season. What was that like and were you able to learn anything from him during the year?
MC: He’s just a great player. He’s has a zero panic level and he really limits his mistakes. Having someone like that next to you really makes the games a lot easier. He always communicated on the ice and it really helped. We got along off the ice, so that made it a lot easier too.
HF: You finished your rookie season with a minus-38, but this past year, you turned in a plus-2. What do you think contributed to that big turnaround?
MC: The extra year helped a lot. During my rookie year, I was getting a lot of ice time, but we were struggling as a team. I think a lot of it had to do with the inexperience on my part. Coming back this past year with the experience definitely helped out a lot. I had a better feel for the game.
HF: You had a chance to participate in the Top Prospects game. What was like to be among the top junior players out there all at once?
MC: It was great to get a chance to play for Bobby Orr. It was awesome to have him there and give you speeches in between the periods was really cool. I had a lot of fun and met a lot of new guys and made some new friends.
HF: Do you take pride in having the responsibility of being a leader out there?
MC: Oh yeah, definitely. My goal next season is to make sure everyone in our dressing room absolutely can’t stand to lose, and everyone wants and needs to win night after night.
HF: You’ve skated in a couple tournaments of past couple years. Most notably, you made the U-18 team for Canada this spring. What was it like to throw on that sweater and represent your country?
MC: Putting on the jersey is an unreal feeling. You play with your heart on your shoulder. Even though we didn’t get the results we were looking, it was a great experience. I had a great time and got to meet some more guys there too.
HF: What was it like to play in an international setting?
MC: With the bigger ice, the Europeans use all of it. They’re pretty quick too. You have to make sure your lateral movement is up to par.
HF: The team has been some through some tough seasons. Even though you guys are headed in the right direction, how do you handle adversity?
MC: You have to look at it like every day is a new day. Also, you have to know that you can go out and work harder and improve yourself.
HF: If give a scouting report on yourself, what would it sound like?
MC: I’ve got a first good pass, I’m a good decision maker, I play very physical and I’ve got a good shot.
HF: What would be some of the things you would like to improve?
MC: I really want to keep working on getting the puck up ice quicker. It’s something that I’ll be working on all summer long. You have quick feet movement so you can get to that open puck a second or two faster which would give you an extra half second to make the plays. That is the key.
HF: How much has the new rules changed your approach?
MC: You always have to have your head on a swivel. You have to be moving because it’s all about speed. Without the red line, you can make those stretch passes, so you have to be aware at all times.
HF: When you hear your name called on draft day, what changes for you?
MC: It’s like the start of a new beginning pretty much. It’s really going to stay the same for the most part. I’m still going to be working really hard and getting better. We have set a really high goal heading back to Saginaw so I know everyone is out there getting ready so we’re prepared for next season.
HF: What do you look to accomplish over the next few years, whether personally or as a team back in Saginaw?
MC: We want to bring the ‘Mem’ cup to Saginaw. That is goal No. 1. Then, hopefully two years down the road, I’ll get the chance to sign with whomever drafts me.
HF: What do you think it is going to take to be successful at the next level?
MC: You have to want to improve every day. You have to work hard, have heart and you have to want it.
HF: What have you accomplished so far that you’re proud of?
MC: So far, being one of the top prospects in OHA coming out of junior and having the chance to play for my country.
HF: How has playing in Saginaw and the OHL been for you so far?
MC: Just being around the guys every day is really awesome. You start to bond and form this brotherhood. You’re all like family and anyone would do anything for anyone else. It’s a good environment to be in.
HF: With your free time, have you been trying to play out all the scenarios leading up to Saturday?
MC: You’re always thinking about that because it is natural. You try not to but it’s going to come and whatever happens, happens. You just have to continue to work hard until then and let everything fall into place.
HF: How does it feel to be this close after all the hard work you’ve put in given that even you could have been playing soccer now instead?
MC: It’s an awesome feeling. I can’t lie to you on that. It’s only the start though and the there’s a lot of work ahead of me. That’s what I’m looking forward to.
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