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Wednesday, Mar. 20, 2019
Mike Corneau weighs overseas hockey options
by Randy Pascal

In many respects, Rayside-Balfour Sabrecats alumni and Valley East Minor Hockey graduate Mike Corneau is not terribly different than a great number of very talented local hockey players. Once professional hockey career aspirations take them away from the Nickel City, it becomes increasingly difficult for the local hockey community to try and maintain contact and be aware of their latest whereabouts. Corneau will once again be at a crossroads this summer as he sifts through a handful of options, quite aware that his window of opportunity will quickly pass him by.

After playing a couple of years with the Valley East Consbec Cobras of the Great North Midget League, Corneau attended the Oshawa Generals training camp in 1997. After an unsuccessful audition, the local talent thought it best to "put hockey on the backburner" in his words, leaving competitive hockey aside and joining up with friends on the Confederation Chargers high-school team.

But midway through the season came a call from Elliot Lake, and Corneau decided to give his passion one last shot, captaining the Ice in their final year of NOJHL existence. That summer, Corneau thought long and hard over attending Laurentian University and playing for the Voyageurs in what would ultimately also be that institution's final year of icing a squad. In the end, he opted to accept an invitation from Ken Mackenzie to join the Rayside-Balfour Sabrecats in what was to be a season to remember.

The Cats pulled off a remarkable 40-0 regular season, with Corneau capturing the league scoring title en route to an appearance in the final of the Royal Bank Cup being staged in Fort McMurray, Alberta. "Putting up really good numbers that year opened a lot of doors for me", said Corneau, who recently stopped in with his parents in Valley East to attend a friend's wedding. "I still say that Ken Mackenzie was the best coach I have ever had, including pro teams I've played with since that year. You just want to play for the guy - he commands that type of respect", noted Corneau.

In September 2000, Corneau chose to attend the University of Ottawa, studying criminology for three years. "We had a pretty good team so I was able to make some contacts and give it a try at the pro level", stated Corneau, who first played professional hockey in the Central League (previously the Western Pro League). This past season saw Corneau make the transition over to the United League, albeit with somewhat of a rocky start. Before even playing a single regular season game with the Fort Wayne Komets and fellow Valley East alumni Sean Venedam, Corneau was traded to the Port Huron Beacons.

Corneau enjoyed a successful rookie season with Port Huron, finishing with 32 points and, most importantly, dressing for 76 games in a league dotted with a number of OHL alumni. "It was a really good experience", noted Corneau, who enjoyed the chance to play with minor league veterans Brent Gretzky and Jason Firth. While he believes that attaining the AHL level is not necessarily out of the question, Corneau is seriously considering an opportunity to play next season in Manchester, England. "I've talked to the team quite a bit", said Corneau, "and they're allowed eleven imports per team, with a 56 game schedule stretched over 26 weeks", a little less hectic than the typical minor pro itinerary.

"I think the experience of playing overseas has an attraction", says Corneau, acknowledging that it might also spell the end of any aspirations of ever reaching the American Hockey League. But like so many before him, Corneau realizes that some thought must be given to what he wants to do with the remainder of his "post-hockey" life, looking at the possibility of a career as a police officer as an interesting option. Corneau has spent some time working summers in group homes, trying to ensure that his resume is broad enough to have some appeal outside of the realm of hockey. But for now, the youngest of four children still sees the benefit of playing for a few more years, and few can blame him for pursuing his dream to the end.

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