No Regrets for Nashville Juniors in Canada, Cleveland

If you want to get ahead in the country music business, it’s a good idea to move to Nashville. If you are trying to climb the hockey ladder, it’s probably necessary to leave the Music City.

After finishing high school, defenseman Matt Corns (Ravenwood) and forwards James Hogan, Michael McCollum (Hendersonville) and Morgan Muirhead all had a decision to make if they wanted to continue playing hockey.

Remaining in the Nashville area meant they would have to play Junior C hockey, the only option available in the Southeast. To play at a higher level, Junior B or Junior A, they would have to head north.

Corns, Hogan and McCollum elected to go to Canada. Muirhead chose Ohio and the Cleveland Junior Lumberjacks of the Central States Hockey League, a respected junior circuit.

Hogan and McCollum now play for the Peace Air Navigators of the North West Junionr Hockey League in Peace River, Alberta.

“The Southern C league is okay,” says Corns’ father, Danny, “but you can’t get the experience of living among those who take hockey more serious than any other sport. Canada really was the first choice for us this year.”

Matt Corns, who also joined the Air Navigators, has been introduced to the business side of hockey. On Dec. 1 he was acquired in a trade by the Assiniboia (Saskatchewan) Southern Rebels of the Prairie Junior Hockey League (PJHL).
The transitory nature of hockey, even at the junior level, is new to the Americans.
Hogan began his junior career with the Junior A Weyburn (Saskatchewan) Red Wings. “I guess,” says Hogan, “I was the only one from Nashville that made it the farthest because I played in two exhibition games for them.

“From there, I got sent to Pilot Butte. That team cut me, and Mike got sent up here to Peace River. So I contacted him to see if I could get a tryout. They gave me the tryout and I’m still here.”

Even Murihead, who has spent the entire season in Cleveland, knows being traded or cut from the team could happen at any time.
“Nothing’s really surprised me,” he says, “except how they’ll get rid of players real quick or trade them. I wasn’t expecting to see as many people coming down as I have.”

The learning curve has been another eye-opener for the four young men, all of whom are making this journey in order to learn and improve as players and individuals.
“It takes a little time to get used to the speed, the passing and the physical contact,” says Corns, echoing the other players.

“The speed,” says Muirhead, “and then everybody is at the same level up here. There isn’t really a huge gap like there is at home. They expect a lot more out of you up here. There’s a lot less room for error.”

Most of the youngsters the Nashville four are playing with and against have been competing in Midwest or Canadian youth hockey systems all their lives.
Hogan, at least, was born and raised in Fort Hope, Ont. Still, it took him awhile to shake the southern that rubbed off on him in Lexington, Tenn., where he lived for four years.

“When I came from Weyburn up to Pilot Butte,” Hogan jokes, “one of the coaches told me I didn’t have a Canadian accent, so I kinda’ got mad at that. So that made me think, ‘I’m turning southern. Oh no!’ ”Matt is the only American player in the PJHL. Aside from the occasional joke, this hasn’t been a problem. He has used hockey as a common ground to build friendships.

“This team up here,” says Corns, “is much closer than any group or team that I have ever been with because you’re always around each other. We just hang out at each other’s houses, go for a skate early in the morning, go work out. The same thing any other hockey player would do up here.”
Compared with high school hockey in the South, where there is generally just one practice a week and games on weekends, junior hockey is a daily experience.
 “We’re on the ice every day,” says Muirhead, “and then you go to the gym before or after practice. But it’s not overwhelming. I like playing every day. It’s what I came up here to do.”

Says Hogan, “We have an outdoor rink and it’s right by the indoor rink. And sometimes they’ll Zamboni it and we’ll go out on the outdoor rink, or we’ll go to a restaurant. Pretty much normal things teen-agers do.”
All that ice time pays off come game time. It had better. The locals in Canada and the Midwest take their hockey very seriously.“When I was playing in Nashville,” Hogan says, “the only fans would just be your parents, your friends, so you wouldn’t get much of a crowd, maybe, 40, 50 people watching you, cheering you on. [Here,] you come out and have your own music and stuff, so it’s a really good atmosphere to play in.”

Still, while the well-grounded Nashville quartet may have dreams of playing in the NHL tucked iton a corner of their minds, they view the junior hockey experience as a chance to have fun, make friends and grow as a player and a person.
“It’s not just for the playing,” says Corns, “but more for the experience. You’re living somewhere else, away from your family. It’s a life-changing experience.”
Right now, the goal for each is a college hockey scholarship.“The coach up here is pretty well connected with some of the Junior A people up here and some of the schools, so hopefully that will help with a Division I school, or something,” says Hogan. “If not, I’ll probably just come back home and go to school I know I won’t ever go pro, so I definitely plan on going to school.”

Muirhead is hoping to get an offer to play at a Division III school. “If not, I’ll probably just go to school full time back home and see what happens from there.”
In the meantime, the families of the Nashville four have to deal with their absence. “It is tough not seeing Matt play after the past 14 years non-stop,” says Danny Corn. “Lucky for us, we still have one at home, our nine-year-old, Michael, so our family hockey fix is still intact.”Perhaps by the time Michael is 18 the level of junior hockey in the South will be on a par with Canada and the upper Midwest.

Morgan Murihead believes the South is catching up. “The people in the south don’t realize that they’re not as far behind the people in the north as they think. I mean, high school hockey in the south isn’t that far away from what it is up here.”
If that’s the case, all we need in the Southeast to complete the hockey experience is the snow and cold temperatures they have up there. Maybe not.





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