CANNONE HELPS PUSH IOWA TO NEW HEIGHTSDec 13, 2016
By Tom Witosky | Follow @toskyAHLWild
When Pat Cannone described the beginning of his first season with the Iowa Wild, he may as well have been talking about the club’s start this year.
“I started out a bit slow, but my game has picked up over the last three or four weeks,” the 30-year-old Bayport, NY native said recently. “It’s a long season and sometimes you forget that. There is a lot of hockey left to go.”
Such is the impact Cannone and other veterans are having as the AHL Wild begins a critical period that can play a major role in determining whether the Wild make the Calder Cup playoffs for the first time in four years. After a slow start, the Wild finished the first third of the season with its best record in four years and within striking distance of the fourth and final playoff spot in the AHL’s tough Central Division.
Cannone, who signed a free agent contract with the Wild in July after a career year with the Chicago Wolves, said that he sees the team’s future much like his own so far this year.
“We are still within striking distance,” Cannone said. “A lot of hockey is left and everyone is looking to pick it up and that includes me.”
Derek Lalonde, the Wild’s head coach, said that the signing of Cannone along with goalie Alex Stalock and defenseman Victor Bartley, showed the kind of commitment the Wild front office was making to transform the Iowa club into a playoff contender.
“We wanted to address getting a number one center, a number one defenseman and number one goalie at our level that would become depth for Minnesota. We certainly did that with Cannone, Bartley and Stalock,” Lalonde said.
He added that Cannone understood what he would be getting himself into by signing with the Wild.
“When I called Pat, I described what the expectations would be for him. I also told him, it wouldn’t be easy,” Lalonde said. “A player of that caliber could easily have been a piece on the top line anywhere including the teams that spend a lot of money.”
Cannone said his talks with Lalonde over the summer intrigued him. He had played in Des Moines with the Wolves and had started his serious hockey career with one season in Cedar Rapids playing for the USHL Roughriders.
“It really did become something that drew my attention,” Cannone said. “I wanted to be part of something special like a turnaround. I also knew there was an opportunity with Minnesota.”
Cannone’s arrival raised expectations for Iowa’s offensive attack, which, in large measure, has been better than in past seasons. Cannone had a career season last year with Chicago when the first line center led the Wolves in scoring with 52 points – 20 goals and 32 assists.
His start in Iowa was below expectations with only 8 points in the first 19 games, but he’s improved lately with six points in his last seven games. That improvement combine with the return of a healthy Alex Stalock to the nets coincided with Iowa battling itself back into the fight for a playoff spot.
“Any time you have a great season you want to pick up where you left off. But sometimes that’s not the case,” he said. “But you can’t let the negativity seep in. It’s really about paying attention to the little things. I understand that as long as you are getting your chances, it will start to go your way.”
Cannone’s love of hockey developed at an early age as he grew-up a New York Islanders fan. “My grandfather was a huge Islanders fan and so he got tickets for my family and got me into it” he said.
After playing high school hockey, Cannone said that he decided to get serious about his game, but not because he thought he’d be able to play professional hockey.
“I didn’t think that much about it. In juniors, I was more focused on getting to the college level with a scholarship at a D-1 program,” he said.
Drafted by Cedar Rapids prior to the 2006-07 USHL season, Cannone said he had to go to a map to figure out where he would be living for the next year. “I really didn’t know where Cedar Rapids was,” he said with a laugh. “That’s when I saw it was in Iowa.”
But Cannone said that his time in Cedar Rapids playing for Coach Mark Carlson turned him into a hockey player.
“My time there was awesome. I had a great housing family and it was a great team,” Cannone said. “Coach Carlson taught me to be a better player. He turned me into a good college player.”
Cannone landed a scholarship at Miami of Ohio at a time when the RedHawks were becoming a hockey power. Cannone played in two Frozen Fours and began to understand that he might have a future playing professional hockey.
“It was in my sophomore year that I began to think it was possible,” said Cannone, who graduated from Miami with a degree in kinesiology and coaching.
Since his final year in college, Cannone has built a strong AHL resume during the last five seasons – two with Binghamton and three in Chicago. He has averaged 46.2 points a season with an average of 16 goals and 32 assists per season.
“He has established himself as a top line AHL center through a lot of hard work,” Lalonde said. “He’s also provides excellent leadership in the locker room.”
As proof, Cannone was named one of three Wild alternate captains and will wear the “A” on his sweater for all road games.
That recognition is just another example of why Cannone believes his decision to move to Iowa was a good one.
“It’s been important that we all help out the young guys,” Cannone said. “There are more rookies here than I have played with in the past. We need to help out the young guys more by showing them the right things to do for the team. “