|After slugging it out for eight years in the AHL, Senators newest defenceman Matt Carkner was rewarded for his early season play with a contract extension which will guarantee him NHL big bucks for the next two years. (Sun Media/Errol McGihon)
While chasing his NHL dream, Matt Carkner endured plenty of long bus rides and lousy meals.
Yesterday, the Senators defenceman, who has been living in an Ottawa hotel with his family since he arrived at training camp last month, saw the hard work, perseverance and dedication pay off when he signed a two-year, $1.4-million (all terms US) extension.
The native of Winchester, who will celebrate his 29th birthday next month and was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, was all smiles after the Senators’ 90-minute workout at Scotiabank Place because he’s finally achieved his lifelong goal of finding a home in the NHL.
Carkner, his wife Kary and children Chase, 4, and Corkin, 2, planned to spend last night shopping for a house.
“I’m thrilled. I couldn’t be in a better place right now just being with this team,” said Carkner, who before this season had played only two NHL games. “The whole year so far has been a dream come true and just getting this contract extension, I couldn’t be happier. I was given the opportunity to show what I can do.
“I’ve been given the chance to show that I can bring a little confidence to the back end. (Coach Cory Clouston) has confidence to play me in key situations. I’ve done well with that and they see that I’m not the type of guy to give up. I’ve been sticking with it for eight years in the minors, trying to make it and I think they have confidence that I’ll keep working.”
That’s not bad for a guy who started camp as a right winger. Not only has Carkner shown toughness, he’s also proven he can play. He has kept the mistakes to a minimum and has made partner Alex Picard a better player.
“I’ve still got to fight for my team and my spot on the team. You’ve got to work hard to be in the NHL and I know that,” said Carkner. “I’ve worked real hard over the years and to say that I’m going to relax at all ... no, I’m not. I’m going to keep working hard and go at it.
“(A one-way contract) is something I never really thought I’d get. Now that I have one, it’s a great feeling, but I’ve just got to continue to do the things that I do to be successful.”
Before training camp, GM Bryan Murray thought he might have to go out and get a rugged element, but, with the way Carkner has performed, the search is over.
“He stuck with it after being in the minors for a number of years with maybe not a lot of light at the end of the tunnel,” said Murray. “He’s a community guy. He’s a team guy. He does anything and everything to be important in the group. He came to camp after spending the summer doing a lot of power skating to develop his stride.
“Every player sees how hard he works. When you have people like this, you should definitely make sure you keep them.”
Naturally, Carkner’s teammates were thrilled.
“To have that kind of guy in the lineup definitely helps,” said rugged winger Chris Neil. “Last year, I was the only guy that had to go out and worry about the fighting part of it. Being the only guy out there doing all the fighting, puts a lot of pressure on you.”