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Not your average Joe

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

Just when Joe Cannata didn’t think his spring break could get any better, his phone rang.

It was Mike Gillis – with great news.

On March 21st the Canucks signed the 22-year-old goaltender, drafted in the sixth round, 173rd overall by Vancouver in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, to an entry-level contract.

A few days later he was in Laurence Gilman’s office at Rogers Arena surrounded by Canucks brass, including general manager Gillis, signing on the dotted line. If his composure in this situation is indicative of how he’ll react when under fire by the opposition with a game on the line, Cannata is going to be a superstar.

“I was freaking out on the inside,” he laughed. “It’s all been so exciting. Back home it didn’t really hit me, it did a little when Mr. Gillis called, but now just being here, it’s hit me a lot more and I’m very excited for the opportunity.”

In the journey of a thousand miles, Cannata is now a bigfoot step closer to realizing his goal of playing in the NHL and he couldn’t be happier.

Watching the Los Angeles Kings during morning skate last Monday, Cannata grinned ear-to-ear knowing if he continues the path he’s on, he’ll be front and centre stopping shots from the pros someday.

“It’s what you dream about as a kid and I’m really excited about it. It’s going to be another tough task that I’m looking forward to, and again, it’s all so surreal.”

Since Cannata was eight-years-old splitting time between two teams, playing as a forward for one and a goaltender for the other before deciding he was meant to stop pucks, overcoming challenges has been his modus operandi.

He played for Boston College High School and led the team to a Super Eight Championship in his junior year, which caught the attention U.S. National Under 18-Team. Cannata played 29 games there going 16-14-1 before winning the 2008 U-18 Five Nations Tournament title as a member of Team USA.

Merrimack College, an NCAA Men’s Division I team competing in the Hockey East Association, was next to recruit Cannata and he joined a team in search of identity.

Cannata started 122 games over a four-year career finishing with a record of 59-46-16; 42 of his 59 wins came over the last two seasons, both New England Division I All-Star campaigns for the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder.

He leaves Merrimack as the school’s all-time leader in wins, games played, minutes played, saves, goals-against and save percentage, and if there were a rating for character, he’d be at the top of that list as well.

“Going in there they didn’t have a great culture, they were just trying to survive,” Cannata explained of Merrimack. “With the help of coach Dennehy bringing in some skilled players, it changed everything and we had that winning mentality.

“I learned a lot there and it was a great place for me to be.”

Cannata’s visit to Vancouver marked his third ever trip to the West Coast and he wasn’t here long before shaking hands with his idol Roberto Luongo and renewing acquaintances with Cory Schneider.

He then shook hands with a team made up of mainly new faces when he skated with his new squad, the Chicago Wolves, the next day before hitting the road with Vancouver’s AHL affiliate.

The Wolves were in town to play the Abbottsford Heat and Cannata joined them as they traveled back to Chicago; he’s still in the Windy City getting accustomed to life in the AHL and his new life in general.

Oh, right, school. Cannata’s teachers will help him catch up on his course work when he returns to finish his final days at Merrimack before graduating with a Business Management Degree in May.

“This is all so overwhelming, I’m just trying to take it all in.”

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