67's star moves up in world

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 6:45 AM ET

Corey Locke's career path took a big turn yesterday, away from Ottawa and towards Hamilton. Locke, the OHL's top player the last two years with the 67's, signed a three-year contract with the Montreal Canadiens yesterday. Instead of coming back to Ottawa, the 20-year-old is off to the Hamilton Bulldogs in a couple of weeks to attend training camp with the Habs' AHL affiliate.

While it was a long shot Locke would return to the 67's, talks with the Habs went down to yesterday's deadline, leaving open the possibility he could return to Ottawa as an overager.

"I'm pretty excited, though I don't think it's really hit me yet," he told the Sun yesterday, just a couple of hours after signing the deal. "It's kind of a relief that it's over and now I know where I'm going to be playing. It's been a rough couple of months, particularly the last two weeks."

Locke was the Canadiens' fifth pick, 113th overall, in the 2003 NHL draft. Fourth-rounders get deals in the $1-million US range over three years with bonuses. Talk is the Habs boosted their offer in the last 48 hours.

Locke had left open the possibility of returning to the 67's if the Canadiens' offer hadn't been to his liking.

"Whenever you have a chance to get to the next level, you have to take the opportunity,'' he said. ''I was prepared to come back to Ottawa and I had to take the most positive look at coming back.

''But I felt like I had proven everything I could in junior hockey. It was a great development league to bring me to this level. Now it's a challenge to produce and survive in the American Hockey League."

KUDOS FROM KILREA

67's coach-GM Brian Kilrea said it was time for Locke to move up.

"I'm happy for the kid," he said. "He's going to get his foot in the door. It's another challenge for him. He was the best player in the country the last two years and he has nothing left to prove (in junior).

"He's done everything for us the last three years. Now it's time for him to do everything for somebody else."

Locke said he understands some 67's fans will be disappointed that he won't be back in Ottawa since his presence would have boosted the club's fortunes.

"The fans in Ottawa treated me so well over the last three years with the 67's," he said. "They were 100% behind us in good times and sour times. It was wonderful to have so many of them in my corner, night in and night out."

chris.stevenson@ott.sunpoub.com


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