By Mike McMahon
---- — When the Vancouver Canucks open training camp next month, former Merrimack goaltender Joe Cannata will be entering his second pro season with a much different perspective than his first.
After signing with the Canucks following the 2011-12 season at Merrimack, Cannata started his first pro campaign in the East Coast Hockey League last fall with the Kalamazzoo Wings -- to use a baseball analogy, the ECHL is Double-A.
After battling a concussion in the first half of the season, he was recalled to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League in November, making 14 starts in the second half, posting a 2.65 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage.
But the callups weren’t done for the former All-American.
When Phillips Academy alum Cory Schneider was sidelined down the stretch of the regular season and even the first two games of the Western Conference Quarterfinals with what the team called, believe it or not, a “body injury,” Cannata got his first call to the NHL to serve as backup to Roberto Luongo.
“It gives me something to work for,” Cannata said earlier this month from the Canucks’ development camp. “I got a little taste of the locker room (in Vancouver) and just being around those guys and seeing what they do on a day-to-day basis and what I have to do to get myself to that level. I’m looking forward to playing a few more games this year, hopefully, and just developing and getting myself to that level.”
What Cannata needs to do is simply stay on the path he’s been on.
Going from backup to starter isn’t anything new to him. At B.C. High in 2007, Cannata was the backup the first half of the season before an injury to the Eagles’ primary goaltender resulted in Cannata taking over the crease, posting a 1.01 goals-against average and backstopping the Eagles to a Super 8 title at TD Garden.
That opened the doors for him to earn a spot on the U.S. National Development Program for 2008, where he again started as a backup behind two goaltenders before earning the starting job down the stretch in international play, winning a gold medal at the Four Nations tournament.
At Merrimack, he earned his time before Andrew Braithwaite before starting the second half of the season.
After that stellar freshman campaign in 2009, Cannata was drafted by the Canucks in the sixth round of the 2009 NHL Draft.
Schneider’s now gone, dealt to the New Jersey Devils for a first-round pick in June’s NHL Draft. With Eddie Lack healthy again, he’s likely headed to Vancouver to backup Luongo which will open the door for Cannata to get starting minutes in the AHL this season.
At the development camp, where his season begins, Cannata has quickly grown from the new face into one of the camp’s leaders. This past summer was his fourth spent at the camp.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” he said. “This is my fourth year so I got a good taste of what it’s like and what to expect. It’s good to see the guys get going with the fitness test and that starts the week off. I told them it doesn’t get any easier though, it’s a marathon and not a sprint.”
Cannata’s whole career has been a marathon, yet recently, he appears to be sprinting up the Canucks’ depth chart.