After a solid 4-year run with the University of New Hampshire, forward Matt Fornataro
was quickly signed to a one-way contract with the Worcester Sharks of the American Hockey League.
Obviously, the 23-year-old did not foresee himself seeing anytime in the ECHL in 2008-09, but a numbers game in Worcester forced the Sharks to reassign him to the Phoenix Roadrunners.
In some cases, such a move would mean bad news for both the player and the subsequent team. But with a chance to showcase his skills as a top-6 forward, the move has been nothing but positive for Fornataro and the Roadrunners.
The Calgary native scored 3 times and added an assist in his first 3 games with Phoenix, which won 2 of its first 3 games. It was just the start the Roadrunners wanted, considering they begin this season with 6-straight games on home ice.
"Matt is an excellent kid," Phoenix coach Brad Church
told NHL.com. "He's come down here with a great attitude. He played hard for us on the weekend. He's excited to be here, and obviously his contributions showed that. He scored some points."
Fornataro has put up points everywhere he's been. In his senior season at New Hampshire, Fornataro (6-foot, 190 pounds) tallied 18 goals and 28 assists in just 38 games.
It was there where Fornataro had the opportunity to play with some pretty special players, including James Van Riemsdyk
, who was selected No. 2 by the Philadelphia Flyers
in the 2007 Entry Draft.
"I had a good college career," said Fornataro, who had 44 goals and 74 assists during 4 seasons. "It was a great place to play and I wouldn't change it for the world. I definitely played with some really good players who are doing some good things now. It was a great place to play and it enabled me to put up some good numbers. Hopefully, it will turn into an NHL career at some point."
At the end of the 2007-08 college season, Fornataro signed a deal with the AHL's Syracuse Crunch and scored a goal in his only appearance. It was a moment he'll probably never forget.
"That was pretty cool," Fornataro told NHL.com. "At the end of the year, I was able to go up there for a couple of weeks. I only got in one game, but we ended up winning and I ended up scoring in that game. It's pretty special to score in your first game. I'm just trying to build off that this year."
While he only got into 1 game with Syracuse, it was an experience that certainly was beneficial. By scoring a goal, it showed that Fornataro could play with the big boys, and he entered Worcester's training camp in the proper frame of mind.
"It was good, just to be able to skate with those guys and know that I can play at that level," Fornataro said. "It gave me confidence going into the summer that I could play there and do well. It was definitely a great experience."
Fornataro registered 1 assist in his only appearance for Worcester before being sent to Phoenix. His main focus will be to put up the type of numbers that will get him back to the AHL, but Fornataro also plans to work on his defensive game while playing at the Double-A level. His goal is to be the type of player who can be relied on in all situations.
"They didn't want me to sit on the fourth line up there," Fornataro said. "They've got a pretty good first 2 lines there. That's kind of the role they want me to play, so they wanted me to come down here and play a lot and work on the things that I'm good at. When I'm here, I want to work on my defensive game and just become an all-round better player."
Such statements aren't the norm from someone who planned on never seeing the light of day in the ECHL, but Fornataro knows that a positive attitude will go in a long way as he aims to get back to Worcester. Clearly, his output last weekend in Phoenix shows that the rookie is willing to do whatever it takes to make it.
"Obviously, you want to be in the American League and eventually be in the National Hockey League," Fornataro said. "But I'm a first-year guy and there's steps I've got to take to get there. I'm not taking it as a negative. I need to get better in some certain areas."
And once he does and returns to Worcester, it could be the last Fornataro sees of the ECHL. In a developmental league, the ultimate goal for any coach is to see his players get promoted.
"That's our goal for Matt," Church said. "We want to get him back to the American League. That's the goal with all our players here in Phoenix. I think the biggest battle for some of these young guys is that they show up with their head down and almost pouting. But Matt came here with the right attitude. He was ready to go and excited to play."
Contact Brian Compton at: email@example.com.