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Carkner keeps living the dream

Senators defenceman admits first NHL goal still 'kind of surreal'

Friday, 09.10.2009 / 2:30 PM / Features
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Carkner keeps living the dream
Senators defenceman Matt Carkner has been overwhelmed by the goodwill sent his way after he scored his first NHL goal during Thursday's 3-2 victory over the New York Islanders (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images).
Usually, it's the kind of conversation reserved for a young twentysomething buck whose time has come much sooner than he ever expected.

Or that rare teenage phenom for whom it's only a matter of time for such things.

But here was big Matt Carkner, at the ripe old age of 28 but just getting his feet wet as a full-time NHLer, sounding every bit like the giddy youngster as he recounted the events of the night before. His first National Hockey League goal in a 3-2 victory over the New York Islanders, being named the game's first star, the thunderous cheers from the fans at Scotiabank Place ... all of it happening barely an hour from his home in Westport.

"It was kind of surreal," said Carkner, who couldn't stop smiling as he talked about his good fortune – and not just on this night. "I've always dreamed of playing in the NHL and I think yesterday, I was thinking about how it would (feel) to score a goal and then last night it happened. It was just a thrill to do it in front my family. It was just an unbelievable feeling."

Especially when you've travelled the long and winding road that Carkner has taken to get to this point. A second-round pick (58th overall) by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, the Winchester native has spent the vast majority of the last eight seasons toiling in the minors – most recently for the American Hockey League's Binghamton Senators.

Until now, he'd seen only two games of NHL action, one of them with the Senators last season. But Ottawa head coach Cory Clouston, one of his biggest fans and supporters going back to their days in Binghamton, has given Carkner the shot he's been waiting for all these years. Clouston has said more than once that maybe that's all the 6-foot-4, 231-pound blueliner needed, the right opportunity at the right time.

"I got my opportunity to start in New York (the season-opener against the Rangers) and I've been playing ever since," said Carkner, who's already more than doubled his previous NHL experience in less than a week. "I was pretty fortunate to get that opportunity, for sure."

It has been surely well-earned, in the honest, hard-working way that is at the heart of Carkner's character. All of that has made him one of the most popular players in the dressing room already and to a man, his teammates revelled in the big guy's achievement Thursday night.

"All I'm doing is focusing on my games and playing the best that I can," said Carkner. "It's nothing special. There's been a little bit of media about it, how I was the underdog and shouldn't have made the team. In my mind, I was just going out and setting my goals, trying to get better every day and taking it from there.

"To say I was expecting a goal in my first three games ... no, not for sure. But that's the way it goes sometimes and I'm pretty happy about it."

So, too, is the army of supporters in the Winchester area that has never stopped believing in Carkner. In a Team 1200 radio interview this morning, Carkner's father, Dennis, said he's been overwhelmed by congratulatory e-mails and phone calls since last night's game.

"All I'm doing is focusing on my games and playing the best that I can. It's nothing special. There's been a little bit of media about it, how I was the underdog and shouldn't have made the team. In my mind, I was just going out and setting my goals, trying to get better every day and taking it from there. To say I was expecting a goal in my first three games ... no, not for sure. But that's the way it goes sometimes and I'm pretty happy about it." - Matt Carkner
Carkner arrived home last night in Westport – where his wife, Kary, and their two children recently moved – and found a cellphone filled with messages.

"I don't know how many messages I had," said Carkner. "I had a ton. People were just happy for me. It's a good feeling to know that people are following me and watching and cheering me on."

The local boy made good is also gaining a legion of new fans at Scotiabank Place, who gave him a standing ovation after his goal against the Isles.

"I thought it was great," said Clouston. "Very deserving."

Much as he'll always have the memories, Carkner also can't wait to get the plaque upon which Senators staff are mounting the puck he'll no doubt keep forever.

"That'll be a nice piece for my house in the future," he said.

Carkner doesn't intend to let this ride end anytime soon.

"Confidence is kind of a funny thing," he said when asked what has allowed him to thrive after surviving his 10th NHL training camp. "Anything you do in life, if you're not confident doing it, it might not go as well as you want it to. All it comes down to is doing all the little things right.

"Maybe I'm just a little more at ease in knowing I can make the plays and contribute a little bit."

Even on the scoresheet, as it turns out.


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