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 Senatorsí 90-minute workout at Scotiabank Place because heís 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.
ďIím thrilled. I couldnít be in a better place right now just being with this team,Ē said Carkner, who before this season had played only two NHL games. ďThe whole year so far has been a dream come true and just getting this contract extension, I couldnít be happier. I was given the opportunity to show what I can do.
ďIíve 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. Iíve done well with that and they see that Iím not the type of guy to give up. Iíve been sticking with it for eight years in the minors, trying to make it and I think they have confidence that Iíll keep working.Ē
Thatís not bad for a guy who started camp as a right winger. Not only has Carkner shown toughness, heís also proven he can play. He has kept the mistakes to a minimum and has made partner Alex Picard a better player.
ďIíve still got to fight for my team and my spot on the team. Youíve got to work hard to be in the NHL and I know that,Ē said Carkner. ďIíve worked real hard over the years and to say that Iím going to relax at all ... no, Iím not. Iím going to keep working hard and go at it.
ď(A one-way contract) is something I never really thought Iíd get. Now that I have one, itís a great feeling, but Iíve just got to continue to do the things that I do to be successful.Ē
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.
ďHe 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,Ē said Murray. ďHeís a community guy. Heís 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.
ďEvery player sees how hard he works. When you have people like this, you should definitely make sure you keep them.Ē
Naturally, Carknerís teammates were thrilled.
ďTo have that kind of guy in the lineup definitely helps,Ē said rugged winger Chris Neil. ďLast 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.Ē