Mike Cornell: The Road to Success

“I had to earn every minute of ice-time I was given from Day 1”

“Love the game and it will love you back.” – A go-to quote of mine since I was a little kid. Filled with passion and dreams, I have loved everything about hockey from the start. The smell of the rink in the morning and the cold wind against your face. The locker room, my teammates, and the feel of a good chirp. I love the good, crisp air of a practice and I love an intense 60-minute battle. I love the game and I love being a hockey player. But the truth is, sometimes the game doesn’t always love you back. Sometimes it can be cruel, and sometimes it can show you some tough love.

When I reflected on my story, I realized how hard it was to share briefly such a wild ride. As I tried to put pen to paper, I realized that was just it. My story has been filled with ups and downs many times over and I can assure you that the game hasn’t always loved me nearly the same. But as I get older, I now realize what I love most has been the journey.

I remember like it was yesterday. I was 20 years old, aging out in an average Junior hockey league and completely unsure of what was to come next. I had a drawer full of letters and recruiting packets from schools I always dreamed of playing at. The only problem was that the letters were a year or two old, and the mailman had stopped coming.

As quickly as they came at the highs, they stopped even quicker with the lows. I had average grades and was coming off a couple of average seasons. At that point, that’s where my game was – average. But even though I may have been a little crazy, I never doubted that I’d get there. My path might be a little longer than others, but I’ll find a way to do it.

The clock was ticking and I remember sitting in my parents kitchen with my longtime trainer Brian McDonough (EPS), hand writing letters to schools essentially begging for an opportunity. Some never said a word. Some replied with, “Thanks, but no thanks.” One current head coach in Hockey East told me that they liked my game but in their eyes I was a 2-3 games per year type of player and he wouldn’t want that for his kid. Not exactly knocking the door down to try to get me there. So when all else failed, I reverted to the only constant I knew and I got back to work. I moved teams and played my final season of junior hockey for the best head coach I’ve played for, Shawn Tremblay.

Trem was as demanding a coach as they come, but I knew every action had a reason behind it and that he was going to get everything I had out of me. As only the Hockey Gods could have written it, Trem’s assistant, Coach Bob Corkum, left prior to the season to run the D at the University of Maine. I was really fortunate to get to know Corks a bit that summer and to build a reputation and trust with him before he left. That fall, I had a bounce back season and found my game again. As fate would have it, Corks went to bat for me that spring, and six months later, I was arriving in Orono, Maine. It was the break I’d been waiting for and I truly couldn’t have been prouder to become a Maine Black Bear.

Nothing was guaranteed and I had to earn every minute of ice-time I was given from Day 1. I had to keep my job every single day.

As the story always goes, the work just began all over again. I will always be thankful for the opportunity the staff gave me, but I always believed in myself and, most importantly, I wanted to prove them right for taking a chance on a kid like me. Nothing was guaranteed and I had to earn every minute of ice-time I was given from Day 1. I had to keep my job every single day, and that rink is where I learned to become a pro.

I will never forget my first time on the ice in the Alfond; it’s a special building with a special history. After playing 128 NCAA games and becoming a two-time captain, Maine was where I was meant to be. It didn’t matter how long it took me to get there or how many “No’s” I took along the way, it was where I belonged. We made some unbelievable memories on the ice, from the NCAA tournament to the Hockey East finals, to the friendships that will last me a lifetime and a degree that will serve me well.

Maybe my path to Division I hockey wasn’t as smooth as what you see on Twitter today or hear from your buddies, but it was all part of my journey and I would do it all over again if given the chance. The lessons I learned throughout my recruiting process and four years at Maine continue to help me today. Now in my fifth pro season and approaching 300 pro games, I’m still an underdog chasing a dream til the end. I continue to work everyday to keep my job, knowing how quickly it can all be taken from me. I’ve played in the American Hockey League and the ECHL, and recently spent a season playing in Europe in the DEL. I’ve taken slapshots in the face, fought guys that I’m friends with toe-to-toe, and have been sent down and called up more times than you can imagine.

This wild journey we all take part in is what it’s all about it. The game has given me so much more than I could ever give back to it, and every day I wake up to go to the rink I’m reminded of how lucky I am. Love the game. Believe in yourself. Work hard. Have fun and be a great teammate. Remember it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon – success is a journey, not a destination. Maybe the game doesn’t always love you back the same way, but man, it’s a beautiful ride.


-Mike Cornell

Pro-hockey Defenseman