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Prospects square off at rookie camp

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils

Corrente (right) checks 2009 first-rounder Jacob Josefson in Tuesday's morning session of Devils rookie camp. – Ten days after the Fourth of July, there were fireworks at AmeriHealth Pavilion.

A fight between Matt Corrente and Ashton Bernard got the second day of Devils rookie camp started with a bang. The scrap developed during a one-on-one drill on Tuesday.

"Sticks started flying and we just went to business," said Bernard, the Devils' sixth-round choice, 174th overall, in this year's Entry Draft.

Bernard prepares to throw a hit.
Rookie camp or not, Bernard doesn't back down from anyone on the ice. A 6-4, 195-lb. left wing, he racked up a career-high 223 penalty minutes during a 2007-08 season split between Rouyn-Noranda and Shawinigan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

In 2008-09, he amassed 111 minutes in 53 games with Shawinigan.

"That's what I do," Bernard said. "I finish my hits, grind it up and I drop the mitts."

Once the fight was over, though, he and Corrente were back to being teammates again: two prospects hoping to realize their dream of skating in the National Hockey League someday.

"We're a team here, we're a family. It's a part of the game and it's going to happen," said Corrente, the 30th overall selection in 2006. "There's no hard feelings at all."

Bernard is of Mi'kmaq descent (pronounced "Micmac") and hails from Eskasoni, Nova Scotia, a First Nation community near Cape Breton. His oldest brother, Addison, was killed at age 14 in an ATV accident in 2001, something that has inspired Bernard's quest to make it to the NHL.

Fellow Eskasoni native Chad Denny was drafted by Atlanta in 2005, but has seen action only at the AHL and East Coast Hockey League levels. Bernard knows he has plenty of support from his hometown to take his hockey career as far as he can.

"It's not just for my family, but my community," he said. "Denny was drafted, but not a lot of NHL players come out of there."

Which is why Bernard will do what it takes to make an impresssion. "This is my chance, and if somebody wants to, I'm willing to drop," he said.

Fighting is also a part of Corrente's game. The defenseman collected 161 penalty minutes in 2008-09, his first season with the Devils' American Hockey League affiliate in Lowell. He added six goals and 12 assists for 18 points in 67 games.

"It was a great experience," he said. "I feel stronger as a player, mentally and physically, and hopefully this is it for me."

Corrente will return for training camp with the goal of making the big club. He has spent the summer working on his foot speed and conditioning. 

"That's been my dream since I was a kid and that's never going to stop being my dream until I'm there," he said. "I'm going to keep working until I get there."

He's four inches shorter than Bernard, but Corrente, who's listed at 6-0, 200 lbs., has a strategy for dealing with taller opponents and put it to use on Tuesday.

"He's a pretty big boy, and when you're fighting bigger guys like that I'd rather get in tight and work my way in from there," he said. "He had pretty good reach. It's the first one of the year, and I'm sure there will be a couple more."

Corrente said it felt good to get the camp's first fight out of the way. He battled 6-5, 200-lb. defenseman Harry Young (8th choice, 202nd overall in 2008) at camp last year.

"It's part of my game, it's not like I'm looking for it," he said. "If it comes, it comes. You take it and go from there."

The White beat Black in the first scrimmage of the week. Jacob Josefson (1st choice, 20th overall in 2009) broke a 1-1 tie when he scored top shelf off a feed from Matt Halischuk (4th/117 in '07) on a three-on-one with Mattias Tedenby (1/20 in '08). Vladimir Zharkov (4th/77 in '06) had the other goal for White, while Jean-Sebastien Berube (9th/205, '08) scored for Black.

"Halischuk made a really nice pass to me, and all I had to do was shoot," Josefson said.

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