In less than a month since training camps began, the 25-year-old defenseman has already built something of a reputation. In Carolina, it was the time he got hit in the face by a puck during practice and opted to delay full medical attention so he could return for the shootout – something surely not required from any player, let alone one with zero career shootout attempts as a professional.
With the Checkers, his “Rambo” impression, shirtless with headband, at the team paintball outing seems to have done the trick.
“I have a few marks to show for that, but it’s all in good fun,” said Corrente, one day later.
“He’s a character,” said coach Jeff Daniels, smiling at the mere mention of Matt Corrente stories. “He’s very intense and very focused. He’s a leader, and guys like having him around.”
As polite as they come off the ice, Corrente, a former New Jersey Devils prospect who signed a two-way contract with Carolina this summer, seemingly takes no prisoners on it. With the Hurricanes looking to ramp up their intensity after a trio of disappointing exhibition games, he racked up 13 penalty minutes in their first win, including five for fighting and four for roughing. In his Checkers debut on Oct. 4, he took a game-high six minutes.
It’s not just games, either. His rugged style carries over to practice, where he’s caused teammates to become visibly irritated with him on at least a few occasions.
“He’s a hard guy to play against in games and a hard guy to play against in practice,” said Daniels. “He forces his teammates to work harder, and in games, he forces teams to pay a price for going to the net.”
“I grew up in a hard-working family and I’ve been going hard out there since I was a kid,” said Corrente, a native of Mississauga, Ontario. “Every time you’re fortunate enough to lace up the skates, you have to try to get better, and that’s the only way to do it.”
Given his style of play, part of what made him the Devils’ first-round pick (30th overall) in 2006, his recent shoulder problems were all the more problematic. They first arose during the 2011-12 season, when he chose rehab over surgery and was able to play 39 games for the Albany Devils. That got him close to 100 percent, but not close enough.
“You can’t do anything with my kind of game,” he said of limitations caused by the lingering injury. “I was playing with one arm for a whole year.”
When he re-injured it after just 11 games last season, he elected for the surgery in early December. The recovery process lasted until early summer.
“I was immobilized for two and a half months,” he said. “I was sleeping in a chair, I couldn’t drive.”
After successful surgery, everything he’s done in his first few weeks on the ice with the Carolina organization would seem to suggest that he’s back to his old self. In addition to the rough stuff, he’s already chipped in two assists in two games and, based on his paintball performance, hasn’t exactly been shy within new surroundings.
“I look at myself as a leader,” he said. “I’m trying to share my experience and show (young players) what it means to be a pro.”
He’s apparently as willing to learn as he is to teach, with Daniels describing him as being very coachable. The fact that his old coach in AHL Lowell and in New Jersey, current Hurricanes assistant John MacLean, was instrumental in bringing him into the fold, backs that up.
“He’s always been good to me,” said Corrente of MacLean. “He really wants to see guys succeed.”
While with the Devils, Corrente also played quite a bit of forward, estimating he’s spent about half of his 34 NHL games at the position. For the moment, the Checkers are happy using him on defense, where he and Mark Flood have both proven to be solid additions to a team that has four new players at the position, easing what could have been a difficult transition.
If it does make sense for him to play up front at some point, he’s more than happy to do it, or whatever the coaches ask of him, for that matter.
“He wants to do everything he can to get to the next level,” said Daniels.