Canucks defenceman Frank Corrado makes his NHL debut against the Chicago Blackhawks at Rogers Arena on Monday night. The rookie saw 17 minutes of ice time in the 3-1 victory.
Photograph by: Steve Bosch, PNG, Vancouver Sun
VANCOUVER — The party was at grandma's house.
If Frankie Corrado had been there Monday night he could have played his guitar. But he was busy playing his first National Hockey League game for the Vancouver Canucks. He'll remember it. Maybe so will Chicago Blackhawk star Patrick Kane, who was flattened by Corrado on the rookie's second shift.
“At that point I was just trying to make a hit,” the 20-year-old said. “Everyone's a great player, so every hit matters. It was unbelievable. Obviously, this is an opportunity of a lifetime. Shockingly, the nerves weren't what I thought they would be and I was able to keep it simple and play my game.”
Corrado had three hits and finished even in 17:20 of ice time, contributing to a 3-1 win that was one of the Canucks' most impressive performances of the season.
His blueline partner – or “big brother” as coach Alain Vigneault called Alex Edler – was so inspired by Corrado he did comedy.
“Ah, he wasn't very good,” the soft-spoken Swede smiled when asked about Corrado. “Actually, he didn't need any help from me.”
They would have been cheering at Corrado's grandmother's house in Vaughan, just north of Toronto, where Sal and Carmela Corrado gathered family and friends to see their boy play on television. Grandma's got the NHL package.
“The whole family's going to go there,” Sal said Monday afternoon during a break from his marketing job in Toronto. “Not only the Italian family, but all my friends and buddies who have watched Frankie play for the last 15 years. You can imagine it's pretty exciting.”
Imagine how the Canucks feel.
Corrado is one of the franchise's prized babies, an honest-to-goodness prospect who has arrived in the NHL far ahead of schedule. Ten days after playing an Ontario League playoff game for the Kitchener Rangers, Corrado was on a top-four defence pairing, fending off world-class attackers like Johnathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Kane.
Most fifth-round draft picks don't turn into NHL players. Corrado became one Monday, four weeks after his 20th birthday and less than two years after the Canucks selected him 150th in the 2011 entry draft.
“I wasn't really expecting it,” Corrado said of his callup from the American League's Chicago Wolves, for whom he played all of three games after his OHL season ended. “Obviously, it's very exciting and a little bit of a shock, for sure.
“The draft gives you an opportunity. After that, it's just about working hard and applying yourself and trying to get better every day. That's all I've tried to do since I got drafted.”
Corrado has come a long way in a short time. Cut from minor-hockey teams in peewee and bantam, he had never been to a Hockey Canada camp before he was invited last winter to the world junior team's tryouts.
Corrado was the final cut, a controversial one given the strength of his camp and maturity of his game.
He is vitally important to the future of the Canucks, who haven't turned a draft pick into a regular NHL defenceman since Edler was stolen in the third round in 2004.
Quick, name the next best blueline prospect in the organization. No, Kevin Connauton was packaged to acquire Derek Roy from Dallas. No, Yann Sauve, who played five games for the Canucks two seasons ago, spent most of this year in the East Coast League.
After Corrado, the Canucks' next best defence prospect is probably Peter Andersson, the fifth-round pick from 2009.
Now or later, Vancouver is going to need Corrado, which is why the team must handle him carefully and not demand too much too soon.
“It wasn't too soon for Chris Tanev,” associate coach Rick Bowness said of the Canuck whose ankle injury contributed to the fast-tracking of Corrado. “There's a calmness there with Chris and this kid seems to possess that, too.
“We saw (Corrado) two years ago in camp and what I remember is he was like Chris: calm, good hockey sense, skating and moving the puck. The kid is going to play in the league. The sooner we can see him and he gets some experience, the better off we're all going to be.”
Tanev, another right-shot defenceman from Toronto who signed with the Canucks as a free-agent, was 21 when he made his NHL debut in 2011. Poised and simple, Corrado's game is supposed to be similar to Tanev's but with a physical edge to it.
With Tanev and Kevin Bieksa injured, the Canucks need a right-shot defenceman. They also need to see Corrado against NHL competition to know if he can help them when the playoffs start next week. It looked Monday, against the league's best team, like he can.
“Listen, I don't think you get too many opportunities to make a first impression in the NHL,” Corrado said. “A lot of guys dream of this. They work so hard for this. You can't be picky. There's no better way than to just get thrown into the fire, I think.”
Sal Corrado started his son in golf before hockey, and they were on the golf course together two years ago when the Canucks called to tell Frank he had been drafted.
Sal predicts his son will be playing guitar as well as hockey in Vancouver. Frank has been taking lessons for years from a graduate of Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music.
“At 14, Frankie was already doing Year 1 of Berklee music,” Sal said. “He plays everything. He's probably got about 12 guitars, acoustic and electric. He takes a guitar on the road when he travels (in junior). He plays on the bus and the guys kind of like it.
“He went to a special music school where they put the kids in a band, so he has played live many times. And he doesn't get too nervous. I believe that kind of helps him when he plays hockey. I mean, if you can play music in front of all these people, I think you can play hockey in front of a lot of people.”
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