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Beeton native, former Barrie 'AAA' Colt's versatility big help for ailing Spits

By Gene Pereira, Special to Postmedia Network

Beeton native Connor Corcoran, whose natural position is defence, has also spent time this season playing forward with the Windsor Spitfires, something he had also previously done as a member of the Barrie Colts ‘AAA’ minor-midget team. The Spitfires are in town tonight to face the Barrie Colts. AARON BELL/OHL IMAGES

Beeton native Connor Corcoran, whose natural position is defence, has also spent time this season playing forward with the Windsor Spitfires, something he had also previously done as a member of the Barrie Colts ‘AAA’ minor-midget team. The Spitfires are in town tonight to face the Barrie Colts. AARON BELL/OHL IMAGES

Connor Corcoran can hardly wait to step on the ice at the Barrie Molson Centre.

The Windsor Spitfires rookie had played there with his Barrie Colts ‘AAA’ minor-midget team last season, but never in front of the large crowds the OHL Colts often draw.

“It’s going to be pretty exciting,” said the 16-year-old Beeton native who, along with his Windsor teammates, are in town Thursday night to face the Colts.

“I know last year playing minor midget and playing in that rink I would always wonder what it would be like to play there with a decent crowd,” he said. “I finally get to do it Thursday, so it’s going to be exciting.”

Corcoran will have a pretty good group of family and friends cheering him on. As of Tuesday, the number was up to 38.

“Hopefully I just play good,” the Spitfires’ second-round pick in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection said with a chuckle.

Corcoran has certainly done that this season, says Spitfires general manger Warren Rychel.

The rookie defenceman has been playing forward of late for the Spitfires thanks to a rash of injuries and according to Rychel has played an important role in helping Windsor get off to a strong 18-5-4 start.

“When he’s on forward, he doesn’t try to over-complicate it,” the Spitfires GM explained. “He just moves pucks and gets in there, and when it presents itself to make a hit, he hits. I’m sure people from Barrie remember he’s got that big shot from midget and it’s even better now.

“He’s scoring some goals, he’s hammering some bodies and it’s good.

“We’re (hosting) a Memorial Cup here and you don’t really see 16-year-olds contributing to an older lineup and that’s not been the case here. He’s done very well and we can’t take him out of the lineup.”

Corcoran is not new to switching back and forth between the blue-line and forward to help his team. He did it in minor hockey in Barrie for two years, too, and even with this year’s Canadian under-17 squad when injuries resulted in him moving up.

The rookie says he has no preference which position he plays.

“I like both,” Corcoran said without hesitation. “I’ll do whatever the team needs.”

That means coming to the rink ready for anything.

“I usually wait to see what the lines are to see where I am,” he said before laughing out loud.

“It really helps my game, I think,” Corcoran added. “It helps the team and whatever I can do to help the team, I love doing that. I think it’s good that I can play both.”

While some players always feel they’ve got to play a certain position and question everything, Rychel praises his young player for his maturity and willingness to be versatile and play whatever role the team asks.

“He never asks questions,” Rychel said. “He comes, he works. He does what he has to do and fits in well with the other guys. The older guys really like him and he helps contribute.”

The Spitfires are a veteran club set to host this year’s Memorial Cup and that’s meant an all-in approach that has already seen them trade for NHL prospects Jeremiah Addison (Montreal), Graham Knott (Chicago), Sean Day (New York Rangers) and former Colts forward Julius Nattinen (Anaheim).

With a deep blue-line group that is arguably the strongest in the league and includes Mikhail Sergachev (Montreal), Logan Stanley (Winnipeg), Jalen Chatfield and Day, it’s not easy to find ice time for a young rookie.

Still, Corcoran’s play has made it difficult for Windsor head coach Rocky Thompson to keep him out of the lineup.

“We’re trying to fit him in wherever we can and he’s answered the bell every time he’s been challenged,” Rychel said of Corcoran, who has played in 23 of Windsor’s 27 games. “He had a couple of big goals for us along the way and he’s taken some draws. Rocky has no problem in putting him in any situation.

“It’s hard for 16-year-olds, as you know, to play in your own end and that’s a big thing, and he’s done very well as a defenceman and a forward. He’s been real good here and it’s promising for our future. He’s a big part of it.”

While Corcoran admits that the pace of the game is faster than he expected, the help he has received from his coaches and teammates have been a big help in helping him adjusting to the OHL game.

“Sergachev, before he left for NHL camp, was giving me pointers and stuff like that,” Corcoran said. “Stanley was showing me how to do the right things in the corners, kind of how to angle guys off so it’s easier to do your job.”

As a young player you have to be a sponge and that means listening intently to what the coaching staff is teaching you.

“Before games, with stuff Rocky says, you bring that out on the ice and you’re going to have a good game,” said the six-foot-one, 177-pound defender, who has three goals and a pair of assists this season.

“When I first started here, I was worrying a lot about keeping one hand on the stick and in the corners just pushing guys with one hand,” Corcoran added. “It took me a couple of practices and that to get stronger with that hand so I can move these guys because they’re bigger.”

While Corcoran may find himself playing both up front and on the blue-line this season, Rychel believes his future is on the point.

“I would say for sure. He’s too good back there,” the Windsor GM said. “All the reports I have from (Hockey Canada) when he went out to the Calgary camp (in the summer), he was great on defence. He was obviously in the top 10 in the country there, so my plan is to always have him play right ‘D’.”

Everyone in the OHL, and even in the NHL, is always looking for a right-shot defenceman, Rychel adds.

“The plan is for him to go back, but he keeps potting these goals, you never know,” he said, before adding a chuckle. “Our top four guys will be gone next year, so that will be his to take turns back there on the blue-line for us.”

With goals in back-to-back games and three points in his last five, Corcoran says he is feeling a little more comfortable on the ice these days and is just happy he can contribute offensively.

He’s relieved to get that first OHL goal out of the way and now to get that first one at the Barrie Molson Centre.

“Hopefully I can do that on Thursday,” he said.

What a return home that would be.

Game time is 7:30 p.m.

ICE CHIPS: Thursday’s contest also features the first trip back to Barrie for Nattinen, who was dealt to Windsor this past summer. The Finnish import has five goals and 19 points in 19 games this season... Stanley, the towering six-foot-seven defenceman with the Spitfires, signed a three-year, entry-level deal with the Winnipeg Jets. He was Winnipeg’s 18th-overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft... Colts overager Roy Radke celebrates his 20th birthday on Saturday... The Colts, who are looking to snap a four-game losing skid on Thursday, host Flint on Saturday night, before heading to Owen Sound on Sunday afternoon.



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