Friday, July 19, 2013

Part 22: Captain Sam Carrick

Sam Carrick couldn’t have picked a better time to be chosen by the Brampton Battalion in the first round of the Ontario Hockey League’s Priority selection.

The 15th choice in 2008, Carrick stepped right into a lineup that ended up advancing to the OHL Championship Series against the Windsor Spitfires, where it was beaten in five games.

“I remember watching my computer that day and not really knowing where I’d be going,” Carrick said recently via telephone from Boise, where he’s in his first professional season as a member of the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL.

A centre, Carrick was the second of a total of four brothers eventually picked in the Priority Selection.

“I was going to be happy going anywhere, but the Battalion picked me.  I knew Cody Hodgson played there, and I had watched him growing up because he had played against my older brother, so I knew what a great player he was. I looked at their roster and saw guys like Matt Duchene and I was star-struck.”

Carrick played 61 games in his first season, scoring 10 goals and adding 11 assists for 21 points.  He also played for the Ontario team that won gold at the World Under-17 Challenge at Port Alberni, B.C.

“I was just happy to be there. I saw the situations guys on other teams were put in, and I felt very lucky to go 15th overall to a team that went to the final. I tried to soak in as much information as I could about how I could be a better player. I watched those older guys to see what they did. I analysed what they did and tried to do it myself.”

Carrick also skated in each of the Battalion’s 21 playoff games, contributing one goal. He credited Stan Butler, director of hockey operations and head coach, with giving him the confidence to play in a lineup loaded with veterans.

“I was very lucky that Stan is good for developing young players. He played me with a lot of great players that season. I played at times with both Duchene and Hodgson. I played a lot and played every game in the playoffs. He didn’t have to play me. He could have given my minutes to a more experienced guy, but he wanted me to develop so I’d be a better player down the road.”

Carrick played 66 games in his second season, finishing second in scoring with 42 points, including 21 goals, for the lowest-scoring Battalion team ever and contributing two goals and two assists for four points in eight playoff games. The Troops, who had lost a number of prominent players from their Eastern Conference championship team, beat the Kingston Frontenacs in seven games in a conference quarterfinal before being swept in the second round by the Barrie Colts.

“We had a core group of guys back who went through it all together the season before, plus some new guys,” said Carrick, whose season came to an end when he broke a collarbone in the series opener against Barrie.

“You realize how good your team needs to be to get to the final and, not only that, you need good team chemistry. Everyone needs to get along. We really got that. Even though we had lost so many good players, I looked at it as an opportunity for me to step up and see what I could do with more ice time. I knew they’d rely on me as a guy to score goals and stick up for my teammates. It was my draft year, and there were always scouts at our games. I took all the positives I could out of it and wanted to build off my first season.”

Carrick was chosen by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the fifth round of the National Hockey League’s 2010 Entry Draft. He signed a three-year entry-level contract last March 31.

“I felt very fortunate to get picked, especially by a team in my home town and the team me and my buddies cheered for when we were growing up. There’s still a lot of work for me to do to make that team. I still need to prove I deserve a spot there.”

Carrick’s third OHL season was marred by a sprained ankle that sidelined him for nine games. An alternate captain to Stephon Thorne, Carrick scored 16 goals and added 23 assists for 39 points.

“That was a funny season. I sprained my ankle a couple of games in, and that’s one of the worst injuries in hockey because you feel like you can come back, but I ended up hurting it again. It didn’t feel good past Christmas. I had fewer goals than the season before, but I was finished with high school and was able to just focus on hockey. I was an alternate captain and looked at as a leader. That was a good learning experience, and I think it sparked the season I had last year.”

Named captain for 2011-12, Carrick responded with the finest offensive campaign of his junior career, leading the Troops in scoring with 67 points, including a team-high 37 goals, and racking up 104 penalty minutes, also a roster high.

“I took a lot from all of the great leaders that I played with. I was so honoured when Stan told me I was going to be the captain. It was one of my goals. I wanted to lead the team one day down the road, and I achieved that goal. I didn’t know what to expect. I just wanted to be myself. It got easier as the season went on. I didn’t have to do much because of the team we had. We had great rookies who worked hard, and I had great assistants to work with, like Philip Lane, Barclay Goodrow and Ian Watters.”

Said Butler: “He was a really underrated leader. He did a lot that people didn’t see. He brought it every game and played hard.”

Carrick led the Battalion in playoff scoring with eight points, including four goals, in eight games. The Troops swept the Sudbury Wolves in a conference quarterfinal before being ousted by the Niagara IceDogs in four games.

“I just tried to lead by example and work hard on the ice, and the guys followed,” said Carrick. “We thought we were evenly matched against Sudbury and we were really up for that series. The coaches really put in a lot of work to get us ready for it. Niagara was an unbelievable team with a tough rink to play in. It was bittersweet at the end, because I wanted to beat those guys since I didn’t want that season to end.”

Carrick completed his junior career with 84 goals and 85 assists for 169 points, ninth on the club’s all-time list. His 254 games are fourth in Battalion history, and he ranks eighth in goals and seventh with 321 penalty minutes. Carrick’s 40 playoff games are one behind the club record held by Hodgson, Brad Albert and Scott Tanski.

“That first season was unbelievable,” said Carrick. “It was so much fun, and I learned so much. We spent the next three seasons trying to get back to that level, but my time with the Battalion was still the best four years of my life.”

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