The 30-year-old rookie stepped on the ice to take his debut shift a few minutes into the game. More than 19,000 fans looked out from the stands at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday night, there to cheer on their Wild against the Avalanche, and they saw Minnesota’s new No. 42 in the red and green sweater joining the cause.
“It was a really cool feeling once I hit the ice,” Pat Cannone said, flashing back over the phone the next night. “But then your instincts kind of kick in. You realize what you’re there for, to play. But it was a cool moment, obviously something I’ll remember forever.”
He used to be a hockey-loving kid in Bayport who persevered through seven seasons in the American Hockey League before reaching the big time.
“Obviously, when you’re a little kid, you dream of playing in the NHL,” Cannone said. “You get as far as the AHL. Then you finally get your opportunity, no matter how long it took. It’s just a great feeling. It was a great accomplishment. Now you want to do what you can to stay here and work your butt off to do that.’’
His first audition lasted 14 shifts as the Wild’s fourth-line center. Cannone played 12 more shifts against the Canadiens in Montreal on Thursday night.
And on Friday night, playing in New York for the first time as an NHL player, the boyhood Islanders fan took the ice at Madison Square Garden as the Wild beat the Rangers, 7-4, for its 10th straight win.
Cannone estimated the number of family and friends here to root for him was in the “mid-30s.” He knew beforehand that it was going to be an “unforgettable” experience.
“It was great,” he said. “It was a great atmosphere out there. Any time you come in this building, you hear it’s such a hard place to play, and it is. To get the win is really sweet . . . Being able to play on that ice was something really special. And just having a lot of family and friends to do it in front of was really cool.”
Cannone went pointless in his nine shifts, spanning 9 minutes and 28 seconds, but did win three of his five faceoffs.
“I’m really happy that he got a chance to play in New York,” Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I’m really excited about the fact that he played in front of his parents.”
Boudreau looks at the 5-11, 197-pound Cannone and can see himself, someone who played more in the AHL than the NHL.
“I think good players get overlooked down there,” Boudreau said. “ . . . I think it’s a great opportunity for him. I’m very happy for him.”
Cannone lived in Ronkonkoma when he was very young but spent most of his childhood in Bayport. He remembers his eighth-grade days with the Bayport-Blue Point junior varsity before he focused on travel hockey with the Long Island Gulls instead of the high school’s program.
Then came three seasons in juniors, one in the USHL and four with Miami of Ohio.
The Ottawa Senators signed him in April 2011 as an undrafted free agent. After finishing the 2010-11 season with the Binghamton Senators, Cannone spent the next two seasons with them before Ottawa traded him to St. Louis. The Blues sent him to their Chicago Wolves affiliate the last three seasons.
“He’s really cerebral in the game,” said John Anderson, his coach with the Wolves each of those seasons and now an assistant with the Wild. “He’s got skill. He can beat you on a deke, and I think he can beat you on a pass even better because he does see the ice well.”
Cannone’s breakout season came in 2015-16 when he had 20 goals and 32 assists. Plus, Chicago’s captain delivered a hat trick in the AHL All-Star Game and was voted MVP.
Still no call-up.
“Never do you think about giving up,” Cannone said. “You’re still making a good income playing professional hockey, so at the same point, life is good. You want to get to the NHL, but I never had a doubt . . . [about] pursuing my dream.”
Anderson thought the Blues could have used his help a few times. “They went with younger guys,” he said.
The Wolves went with Cannone as their Man of the Year in April thanks to his community-minded endeavors. His nickname is “Pistol,” and his “Pistol’s Pals” program allowed kids with cancer to get autographs, pose for pictures and chat.
“He’s just a really genuinely great guy,” said Courtney Mahoney, the Wolves’ senior vice president of operations. “ . . . Your goal in all those programs is to have some kid who’s fighting cancer and going through some hard times feel lucky that they got to do this. Pat was really tremendous at doing that.”
Minnesota signed Cannone over the summer and assigned him to the Iowa Wild. He was in the team lounge at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Sunday when Minnesota assistant GM Brent Flahr came over.
The parent team had an injury. He was going up.
Cannone informed his parents and his wife, and then he was off to make his dream come to life.
He’s still searching for his first point after three games, but he has won 11 of 21 faceoffs.
“He’s been really good on the draws for us,” Anderson said.
Still, the NHL’s holiday roster freeze is over after Monday. So what if Cannone wakes up next week and he’s back with Iowa?
“I won’t be discouraged,” he said. “You’re just going to have to do whatever you can to earn the next call-up and wait for your next chance. But right now . . . I’m trying not to look too far ahead.”
The Pat Cannone file
No. 42, Center
High school: Bayport-Blue Point
Youth hockey program: Long Island Gulls
Long Island junior team: New York Bobcats
American Hockey League teams: Binghamton, Chicago, Iowa