Senior defenseman Willie Corrin recently wrapped up a brief stint with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League after concluding the UMD hockey season. The Statesman's Maddie Ginsberg gave him a call to chat about his first professional hockey experience. The following interview has been edited for content and clarity.
How did you initially become a part of the Maple Leafs organization?
My agent was calling around a few other teams and kinda feeling out if they needed anyone to come in for the last couple of games, because teams will do that. So my agent contacted Toronto and said “take a chance with this kid.” He told them, “I’m not going to let you down, I’m not going to send you a kid who can’t play. So take a chance, he needs fresh eyes.” And that is what they did. They took a chance and put me in. I may have played the four best games of my life.
What was it like going up there with some of your Bulldog teammates?
It was great. Going to not only a different town, but a different country where your cell phone doesn’t work all the time, you don’t really know anyone up there. Being there with Tony (Cameranesi) and Kaz (Kasimir Kaskisuo) was great because it was someone you’d go out to eat with and you can sit there and chat. We played Xbox and PS4 in the hotel room and it was just a great experience to go and share with someone that you know. It was also nice to have someone to talk hockey with as well.
What was it like playing for an AHL team?
It was unreal. I get goosebumps just hearing it. Coming immediately out of college, just two days after our season ended. All of a sudden I am considered a “professional” athlete. It was awesome. The game is a lot different than college. College is more of a run and a gun, hit everything that moves with a lot of turnovers, but the pro game is so much more controlled. I wouldn’t say it is slower, but it is more puck possession. Guys are willing to hold onto the puck a little bit longer and (they) make unreal passes.
You know, my first shift, I stepped out on to the ice, I look over to the other side and we are playing against Tampa Bay’s affiliate team. And there is Jonathan Drouin coming down, and I was like, ‘OMG’ and if you look back at Tampa Bay’s playoff run so far, he’s over a point per game with them so far so it’s like, ‘OMG’ and I am just starstruck.
Were you nervous when making your professional debut?
I wasn’t nervous, I was really excited. I guess there was some nerves there, but I just knew that they knew nothing about me so I could play whatever game I felt I had to play. I only got eight shifts I think, but I played well in the eight shifts I got and the next game they threw me in again and I think I kinda blew them away because they didn’t know anything about me. Their expectations went up. Yeah, nerves were there, but like I said, I could play with the confidence I knew I had and make an impression.
Now that the Amateur Tryout Contract you signed is up, are you going to come back to Duluth to finish your degree?
Yeah, I’m taking 19 credits this semester.
You took 19 credits this semester and played college and professional hockey?
Yeah (laughing), it was tough. But teachers, especially teachers that I have had, are really accommodating and understanding, and they work really well with you if you’re respectful and understand that their time is valuable to them as well. Before I left, I got a hint that I would be leaving, so I emailed all of my teachers and met face to face with the ones I could, and I told them the situation. I said that I would be leaving for a few weeks to a month or whatever it is. I told them that this is something that is really important to me because it is literally a job opportunity, or really it is a job interview that I could possibly do for the rest of my life. Some asked questions, they wanted to know what I could do to keep graduating and stay on pace and stuff. Others were just so excited that they just said “let me know when you’re back and we will figure something out, I will send you all your work online.” So that is what I have been doing, a lot of online work.
You talked about how it was a whole new game from playing college hockey, but what was the biggest difference?
The biggest difference I would have to say is the control. What I mean by that is if a guy was coming one on one with me or perhaps a two on two, instead of that guy, in college hockey, he would dump it if they can’t get it by you or they will try to beat you wide. But in the AHL, they make it look like they are going wide, and then I would start overplaying them to try and angle them in the corner and they would stop, they would pull up and they would wait. They are so good with their passing and their vision of the ice that they are going to wait for something to open up and I felt that it was the hardest thing for me, is to just let them kinda get by you so they can’t pull up anymore and you can drive them into the corner. But that is the biggest change, is the control and the systems. In college hockey you want to turn it up right away and in the AHL, I am the defenseman, so I am used to being the last guy back, but there I would have two forwards behind me because they want to drop pass, and it is five on five and it works every time. It is so weird.
What are you going to miss most about playing for the Bulldogs?
I’m going to miss the guys, probably the most. You are there for four years or unfortunately for some guys they are only there two to three, but you get to know these guys on a different level than usual and you are with them every day, 24/7 sometimes. In college hockey you are all working towards one goal and that is winning and having success. No one really worries too much about the next year because you are there to finish your education. I am just going to miss that locker room camaraderie with the guys and hanging out with them everyday.
What will you miss most about being a student at UMD?
I am just going to miss the atmosphere. I love coming to the rink. I’m not a big school person, but I still like going to the school and I still like interacting with other students. You know, UMD is an unreal place, and I will always tell people if they have a chance to come play here, they better do it because it’s probably one of the best schools in the nation for how athletes are supported. UMD is in my life forever. It is going to suck being away from it, but I am looking forward to a new chapter in my life. I think UMD is going to help with that, because it shaped me into who I am and the people who I have met along the way.