READERS PLEASE NOTE: This article was published
Every kid who hits the ice at a young age wants to make the National Hockey League (NHL).
Last year, 888 skaters played in the NHL for at least one game. With well over one million registered hockey players in North America alone, the odds of getting to the top level is unquestionably low.
That doesn’t stop players from chasing their dreams at the professional level.
Mark Corbett is one of those players who never gave up when dreams of getting to the big leagues fell short. He overcame people telling him to give up and focus on other things to earn a paycheque.
In a way, he’s still living the dream.
After helping the Oakville Blades of the Ontario Junior Hockey League make the league finals for the second straight year in 2010-11, Corbett began a four-year stint with the Ryerson Rams. A criminology major, Corbett has played 104 games with the Rams, and has an additional 11 playoff games under his belt.
Just two weeks after finishing his hockey career with Ryerson, Corbett accepted a three-game tryout with the Southern Professional Hockey League’s (SPHL) Mississippi RiverKings.
His tryout wouldn’t result in an extended stay in Mississippi, but the Knoxville Ice Bears took notice.
He only played 14 total pro games that year, but it was good enough for him to win his first professional championship with the Ice Bears.
Corbett bounced around between four teams over the past two seasons, spending most of his time with the Peoria Rivermen and the Fayetteville FireAntz of the SPHL. Now, Corbett resides in the beautiful country of France where he continues his career overseas.
“Europe in general has always been somewhere I wanted to go and see,” Corbett said. “When I was contacted about playing over there, I had to think what better way to see the world than doing something I love and getting paid for it.”
Corbett is one of four Canadians on La Roche Sur Yon, a French Division Two team in search of their first ever championship. France may not have that strong of a footprint in the world of hockey, but the opportunity to play professionally in a country that is currently on the rise internationally wasn’t something he wanted to miss.
One of his current teammates includes Josh Ranalli, who played with Corbett when they were with the Blades back in 2010-11.
“My close friends have told me what an experience playing overseas has been for them and said it would be a missed opportunity if I didn’t go,” Corbett said.
It’s a big change for Corbett, who during his university days, never had to go far from home to play hockey. The Burlington native played with many local teams prior to turning pro.
“Besides my very poor french skills that I tend to get laughed at most places I go to, it hasn’t been too bad adjusting,” Corbett said.
“I take the phrase you always hear, ‘you see something new everyday’ to heart because in Toronto that is a very true saying,” Corbett added. “At Ryerson, I believe it is a city with(in) a campus, where most universities are a campus within a city.”
Like many professional athletes that don’t play in the NHL, Corbett does need to work on the side to help pay the bills. Outside of helping younger kids learn the game, Corbett works for TEAMLTD (which stands for TEAM Living The Dream), a Mississauga-based clothing brand.
“We practise at night here to allow the local French players to work during the day as some have families,” Corbett said.
Despite being nearly 6,000 kilometres away from the school he studied in, Corbett, an active social media user, still finds ways to follow the Rams overseas.
“I still talk to Coach (Mike) Duco from time to time when I can,” Corbett said. “I have even helped a few guys go to Ryerson in the past few years, telling them how much I enjoyed my time there and the people around the rink.”
Corbett cites playing in front of thousands of fans at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, the former home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, as one of his favourite memories of being a Ram.
Corbett hopes to prove that he belongs in the pro ranks after being doubted by people around him throughout his career. He was told many times that he couldn’t play at the professional level, something he uses as motivation every time he hits the ice.
When he gets free time during the season, Corbett hopes to see as much of the world as possible. Being in unfamiliar territory makes it easier for him to do so, but he hopes to extend his hockey career as long as possible.
But Corbett will never forget where he came from, either.
“I think once a Ram always a Ram is a true saying.”