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10/20/2007 12:02 AM -

In a sport not known for politeness or political correctness, Carl Corazzini is the consummate gentleman.

Story and photo by Mark Newman

“Battle not with monsters lest you become one.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

As a student of history and political science, Carl Corazzini knows all about conflict. An avid reader of World War II historian Stephen Ambrose, he has learned a thing or two about battles.

So it may or may not come as a surprise that Corazzini the hockey player isn’t spoiling for a fight. Of course, his 5-9 frame might have a little something to do with that. So might his personality.

Few players spend less time in the penalty box than Corazzini, who is a genuinely nice guy. If another player dropped his gloves, he would probably pick them up.

In the past six AHL seasons, he has amassed a whopping total of 60 penalty minutes in 359 games. To put that in perspective, the AHL record for most penalty minutes by a player in a single game is 64.

Which means that Corazzini has become accustomed to taking good-natured verbal punches relating to his relative lack of penalty minutes. You’re a pet lover? That explains why you won’t hurt a fly.

After his penalty minutes the past two seasons jumped to 16 and 18, respectively, Corazzini’s teammates kidded him that he was becoming overly aggressive.

All of this is not to say that Corazzini doesn’t like a good argument. In fact, he might be practicing law if he had not decided to tough things out a few years ago.

Corazzini admits that he came close to quitting the game after the 2004-05 season. Having played a dozen NHL games for Boston the previous year, he expected to play a lot in Providence if he didn’t win a job with the Bruins.

“But they had a lot of young guys coming in and I kind of got weeded out,” he said, recalling the circumstances that led him to get traded from Providence to Hershey.

“I put the blame on myself. I’m 177 pounds now, but I weighed 196 all year in Hershey. It was one of those things where I kept getting on the scale and seeing my weight go up.”

Around the same time, Corazzini lost a bet with a friend and shaved his head into a mohawk. “I sent a picture back home to my mother and she said, ‘Great picture, but who is it?’”

At the end of the season, he found himself without a job. He mulled over putting away his skates for good. He thought about taking the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) that summer, but figured it would be best if he did some studying first.

Corazzini went to training camp that fall with the Danbury Trashers.  “When you’re in Danbury in the United Hockey League, it’s time to think about a career change,” he said.

A phone call from Norfolk Admirals general manager Al MacIsaac put the law school plans on hold.

Mike Haviland, for whom Corazzini had played in Atlantic City in the ECHL during 2002-03, was now the head coach in Norfolk and he was looking for a dependable player.

“He showed a lot of confidence in me,” he said. “Prior to that point in my career, I had been a third-line guy or penalty killer. He said we have a lot of young guys and we need you to score. I got real lucky.”

Corazzini would be the first to admit that he has lived a somewhat charmed life. “Two of my three dreams have come true: to play in the Beanpot and to play for the Bruins. I don’t think I’m going to get the chance to play in the Olympics, but that’s OK.”

A native of Framingham, Mass., Corazzini played his college hockey at Boston University, winning the Beanpot, the annual Boston-area tournament, three times.

He broke into the professional ranks with the Providence Bruins in 2001, then got a chance to play in the NHL during his third season. He’ll always remember getting the news.

“A friend of mine and I had been late for a meeting the day before, so when I got called into the coach’s office, I was expecting the worst,” Corazzini recalled.

Instead, Corazzini heard a veiled reference to baseball player Lou Merloni, another Framingham native, who had recently been acquired by the Boston Red Sox.

“He said, ‘Framingham is going to be proud to have two guys in the show.’ I wondered, who’s the other?’ When I realized he was talking about me, I got that deer-in-the-headlights look.”

In his fourth NHL game, Corazzini scored two goals against the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden. The first came on a shorthanded breakaway.

“They threw me out there and I’m looking around and I see Mark Messier, Eric Lindros, Brian Leetch and Igor Kovalev and all I’m thinking is, ‘Don’t get scored on.’ When we scored, it was the greatest thrill of my life.”

Of course, Corazzini eventually found himself back in the minors, where he languished until his career was rejuvenated in Norfolk.  He finally returned to the NHL last season when he saw action in seven games with the Chicago Blackhawks.

“You definitely appreciate it more the second time around,” he said. “It was gratifying to me because it had been two years between NHL games. I’ve learned not to take anything for granted.”

Part of that wisdom comes from experiences away from the rink. Corazzini has two older sisters, Stephanie, 34, and Kristin, 31; the former has special needs, having been born with brain damage.

“She’s definitely been a big inspiration for me,” he said. “When she struggles with simple things like tying her shoes or eating dinner, you realize how fortunate you are.”

On another level, Corazzini has experienced the emotions of unconditional love. “She’ll see me after a game and give me a hug and a kiss and she’ll want to talk about my dog, never hockey.”

Corazzini has a full-blooded beagle named Max that he loves dearly.     “When I got traded to Hershey, it was a shock to the system. Outside of Atlantic City, I had never played further than 45 minutes from my home.  What made it even worse was that I had to leave Max with my sister.”

It also meant he couldn’t be with his fiancee, Christine, The two, who have known each other since they were first communion partners in second grade, were married on July 28, 2006.

“We didn’t start dating until my first year in college,” he said. “She enjoys hockey because I enjoy it, but she would rather watch basketball or the (New England) Patriots.”

Corazzini understands. Away from the rink, he “reads excessively.”

His favorite author, Stephen Ambrose, was the military advisor on the movie Saving Private Ryan and was an executive producer of the TV mini-series, Band of Brothers, which was based on his book.

Speaking of brothers, Corazzini doesn’t have any, which he says might just explain his lack of penalty minutes.

“I was always playing hockey on the driveway by myself, so nobody ever beat me up. That could be part of the penalty problem. No brothers. No toughness,” he said with a wink.

Or it could just be that he’s a nice guy.

“If I’m pushing and shoving someone out there, I’m really kidding myself,” he says with a chuckle.

Corazzini just wants to skate. He has no interest in starting a fight. Ever.

“For me, my favorite part of hockey is when you get on the ice early and you find yourself in the rink all by yourself, just shooting around. It gives you time to dream and to think and to play all these little scenarios in your head.

“Whether it’s the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals or, for me, it’s Mike Eruzione in the 1980 Olympics. That’s what I always dreamed about when I was by myself on the driveway or alone in the rink.”

His Olympic dream now likely out of reach, Corazzini dreams about winning a Calder Cup. He would like to think he improved his chances by coming to Grand Rapids.

“Obviously, Detroit has a first class organization, and I talked with a couple of former Griffins, Ed Campbell and David Hymovitz, who told me how much they liked it in Grand Rapids.”

When Mark Cullen, his linemate in Norfolk, signed with the Red Wings, Corazzini was sold.

“Of course, it’s always a possibility that I could still get back to the NHL, but at this point in my career, I’m really focused on winning the Calder Cup. I’ll do whatever it takes to help the organization.”

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