As an NHL player, Matt Carkner has never brought his six-and-seven-year-old sons to the office for “Take Your Kids to Work Day.” That changed Thursday, though the 6’5, 234-lb defenseman didn’t bring his sons Corbin and Chase on the ice to help protect the Isles’ blueline. Instead he brought the family to the NHL offices in Midtown Manhattan for a tour of the league’s headquarters.
During his whirlwind day at the NHL’s offices on Sixth Avenue, Carkner conducted interviews with NHL.com and the NHL Network’s flagship show, NHL Live. He was also a featured speaker for a room full of children who'd joined their parents at the office for “Take Your Kids to Work Day.”
“My message was to dream big,” Carkner said. “For me it was just a fun time trying to interact with kids who are interested in hockey.”
Carkner's professional hockey journey set the background for his lesson on dedication and perseverance. His NHL dreams date back to his days growing up in Winchester, ON, a small town of roughly 700 in Eastern Ontario. As a 17-year-old, Carkner's first Ontario Hockey League season got off to a disappointing start with the Peterborough Petes, as he registered just two points. However, his game improved so much the following season that the Montreal Canadiens selected Carkner in the second round, 58th overall, in 1999.
Carkner never played a game within the Canadiens organization, but signed with the San Jose Sharks following the conclusion of his Petes career in 2001. Carkner’s journey through the American Hockey League had stops in three different cities, but he never gave up the dream of lacing up his skates in the NHL.
After sprinkling in two NHL games through 2009, Carkner’s big break came with his hometown Ottawa Senators in the 2009-10 season.
“I knew that I was good enough, but I just hadn’t been given the opportunity, whether because of an injury or just timing,” Carkner said. “When I got that opportunity I was ready for it and took advantage of it.”
To Carkner's surprise, that opportunity initially didn’t come as a defenseman, which was the only position he had ever known.
“I made the Senators during training camp and I was playing as a forward,” Carkner said, reflecting on the fall of 2009. “It was a position that was brand new to me. I think I played three games and then one of our defenseman had a tough game and I had the opportunity to go back and play my natural position on defense. I impressed the coaches and the rest is history. I’ve been a defenseman ever since.”
During his question-and-answer session at the NHL offices, Carkner described his childhood dreams of scoring an overtime goal like his hero Steve Yzerman. On April 22, 2010, Carkner’s dream became reality, when he scored the game-winning goal in triple overtime against the Pittsburgh Penguins in game five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Having signed with the Islanders during the summer of 2012, Carkner has helped protect the blueline on Long Island over the past two seasons. A number of the young Islanders fans in attendance at the NHL offices even showed off their knowledge of the past few of seasons, asking questions about playing in the postseason and also facing adversity as a team this past year.
“There were a few good questions about losing a lot of our players due to injury this year and how that affects our team,” Carkner said.
Carkner referenced the Isles’ 8-2-2 record down the stretch and said it proved that the young players had what it took to step up. Being one of the veterans on the team, Carkner also spoke about wearing an ‘A’ as an alternate captain as the season wound down.
Having just completed his fifth NHL season, it’s been a long time since Carkner has had to think of what his back-up plan once was, but he didn’t just speak about his hockey career. He told the children that had he not become an NHL player, he was sure what his role would have been.
“I knew when I was young that making the NHL was a long shot and I did have a back-up plan going into high school. I knew if I didn’t make it, I wanted to continue my education and I always liked teaching,” Carkner said.
As a veteran in the NHL, Carkner now combines his two loves of playing hockey and teaching, as he helps mentor young players who look to make their mark on the league too.