Carkner showing plenty of fight

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:37 AM ET

Other body shops have the same motto as D's Collision Centre in Winchester, where they cleverly declare: "We make friends by accident."

But Dennis Carkner is the only shop owner of his kind with a 6-foot-4, 230-lb. son who these days is making a lot of friends by trying.

“I worked there when I was a kid, and that kind of drove me to become a hockey player,” Matt Carkner said with a little chuckle and the good sense to plug the Dawley Dr. business that paid for his equipment and put him through the sport as a youngster. “My older brother (Phil) got all the good jobs, he got to fix the cars up and stuff, and I had to do all the cleanup work, the bitch work.

“It definitely was a learning experience. That’s hard work. I have a lot of respect for them, for sure.”

Carkner has garnered a lot of respect himself, and not just because he’s one of the toughest fighters in hockey.

The third cousin of Terry Carkner, both played for the Winchester Hawks and the Peterborough Petes (and oh yeah, “we’re both really good-looking guys, so there’s that connection too,” snickers Matt) but their careers took different paths when they turned pro. While Terry played 858 NHL games before retiring, Matt is a second-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens (1999) who has played just two.

“I’ve never even thought about doing something else,” said Carkner. “Hockey is my life. No matter what league I’m playing in, as long as I’m playing hockey, I’m having fun. I’m making a living. So just to get a chance here at the NHL level, in pre-season and all that ... it’s my dream to play in the NHL, and I’m not really giving up on that dream yet.”

Never has it been so close to reality.

Currently paired with Brian Lee, Carkner is one of eight defencemen still at camp. The top two tandems are Chris Phillips-Anton Volchenkov and Filip Kuba-Erik Karlsson. A third pairing has Alex Picard with Chris Campoli. At least one and possibly two members of the group will be shuffled off to Bingo when coach Cory Clouston sets his final roster after tomorrow’s pre-season finale with the Bruins. The betting man’s choice for demotion is Lee, who is still on a two-way contract.

Carkner, who would represent a physical force on an otherwise pretty soft Ottawa blue line, came to camp as a forward, but was moved back during the first pre-season game. Along with his pugilistic skills, he is a solid penalty-killer and does a good job of clearing the front of the net. A scout from another NHL team believes Carkner can play 12-15 minutes a night against opponents’ third and fourth lines.

“Absolutely,” Clouston said when asked if the Senators have a need for what Carkner brings. “That type of work ethic and commitment is contagious. He’s played very well, and the toughness aspect is obviously important.”

Working in Carkner’s favour is the fact he can also play forward. That and the fact he has a fan in Clouston, his coach in Binghamton the past two years.

“Sometimes it’s just an opportunity,” Clouston said when asked why Carkner hasn’t broken into the NHL before now. “Maybe a confidence on our side, shown towards him is all he needs. The last couple of years he’s really developed. He’s gotten much better. I know it’s hard to believe that a 28-, 29-year-old can improve his game a lot, but because he works hard he’s really elevated his game.”

If it was up to Chris Neil, there would be no discussion.

“He’d definitely be on my team,” Neil said. “But I don’t make those choices.

“Mattie’s been one of our best ‘D’ through the whole camp. He’s a guy who cares a lot, and just goes out and does his job, plays hard. He’s played well enough to play here and show that he can play in the NHL. I think that definitely we could use a guy like that here. We really haven’t had a guy like that here since Zdeno Chara. He’s big, he’s tough and he’s mean to play against.”

He’d also give Neil some much-needed help in the enforcing department.

“You look at my best years here, point-wise, and we’ve always had other tough guys,” Neil said. “It does take the load off, helps the hands.”

For now, Carkner is enjoying being here, in the NHL, in Ottawa, down the highway from his hometown, his family, his dad’s body shop. It’s up to the Senators to find a way to make the situation permanent.

“I always fight ’til the end, you know, I never really give up,” Carkner said. “I don’t really worry about the outside distractions, the contracts and all that. I’m trying to make the best of it. I’m getting some ice time and hopefully .... who knows what will happen.”

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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