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Locke looks to turn career year into NHL opportunity

Saturday, 09.03.2011 / 11:05 AM / Prospects

By Tal Pinchevsky - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Locke looks to turn career year into NHL opportunity
A career AHL phenom who's only skated nine games in the NHL, Corey Locke heads into camp with the Senators this season hoping to make the big club and finally stick.
The average fan probably didn't hear much about it, but Corey Locke's 2010-11 season may have rivaled that of anyone in hockey.

The 27-year-old veteran of the American Hockey League played in his fourth straight AHL All-Star Game before claiming the league scoring title and the Les Cunningham Award as league MVP. With the Binghamton Senators, he also won his second Calder Cup before getting married a month later in Burlington, Ontario. Perhaps most importantly, Locke played five games with the big club in Ottawa, registering his first NHL point.

"I'm glad I got called up a few times. Obviously getting my first NHL point was fantastic," Locke said. "It was a great experience and hopefully there's more to come this year."

If there is any player in the AHL who has earned a shot at the NHL, it may be Locke.

The fleet-footed center was a dynamo in junior hockey, where he remains one of only four players to win consecutive Red Tilson Trophies as Ontario Hockey League MVP. He was voted CHL player of the year in 2003 before being drafted by Montreal in the fourth round of that year's Entry Draft.

"I'm hoping for an opportunity and that's what I would really like: a fair opportunity," Locke said. "Obviously I don't expect it to just be handed to me. I know I have to earn it. At the same time, I think I've done well, producing and doing everything the coaching staff has asked me at every level to put me in a position to get that opportunity."
-- Corey Locke

Since then, he's garnered every conceivable AHL honor, including a four-goal MVP performance at the 2009 All-Star Game. Even though the Canadiens traded him in 2008, Locke remains their AHL franchise's all-time leader in goals, assists, and points. But over the course of his celebrated AHL career, Locke's focus hasn't wavered.

"I just try to push myself. I'm not at the level that I want to be. I'm in the minors and doing it down there but my ultimate goal is to play in the NHL," Locke said. "That drive helps me to continue to try to be as consistent as possible."

Despite putting up impressive statistics throughout his hockey career, Locke has played in only nine NHL games in the last four seasons with three different teams. But considering his recent MVP season, this may be Locke's best shot yet at an NHL job. In June, the Senators introduced a new coaching staff following a losing season in which they consistently called upon their AHL players. Of the 28 players on Binghamton's championship roster, 13 appeared in at least one game with Ottawa last season.

"Ottawa was making some moves up top. That gave guys from Binghamton an opportunity to go up," Locke said. "There's a different coaching staff now and I think there's a different mentality behind what our team will look like. Time will tell. We have to get to training camp first and you just want to impress the coaching staff and give yourself the best opportunity to make the team."

Looking for that opportunity, Locke has turned down offers over the past few years from teams in Europe, instead preferring to focus on his NHL quest. And with a long list of players who starred in the AHL without finding everyday NHL employment, he's got some people in his corner.

"Corey Locke mirrored me very similarly, doing what he's doing in the American League," said Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, who played 141 NHL games, but was mostly a career minor leaguer who ranks 11th in AHL history with 799 points. "He's probably as smart as any of the top NHL guys going. With the puck, he can make plays if you give him the time and the space. I was 38 in the IHL, and I still thought I had a chance [at playing in the NHL]."

At age 27, Locke won't be the youngest prospect attending the Senators' 2011 camp, but he'll certainly be the most accomplished. And if he does manage to make a transitioning Senators team that is relying on its farm system, he'll have a wealth of skills and experience at his disposal.

"I'm hoping for an opportunity and that's what I would really like: a fair opportunity," Locke said. "Obviously I don't expect it to just be handed to me. I know I have to earn it. At the same time, I think I've done well, producing and doing everything the coaching staff has asked me at every level to put me in a position to get that opportunity."
Quote of the Day

I'm sure [my father] was going crazy up there. I hope all of my friends were celebrating in the crowd. Coming back here and all of my friends and family are here, getting a goal in front of them is special.

— Blues forward Ryan Reaves on scoring the game-winning goal Sunday against the Jets in his hometown of Winnipeg
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