Comets' Negrin Peddling Optimism For Hockey Dreamers

Dec 27, 2016

In life and hockey, Comets' defenseman John Negrin is a man that appreciates routine.

Now in his fourth season in Utica, once arriving in the Mohawk Valley for seven months of scheduled ice time, with playoff options for up to an additional two months each spring, there isn't much guess work about how Negrin approaches his daily schedule.

Rising "early", a cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee in one hand, and preparing a morning helping of oatmeal with the other, Negrin isn't much different than most people. After hanging around the house, as 9:00 am rolls around, it's time for Negrin's first shower of the day.

From one introduction to water, Negrin, a Calgary Flames' third-round draft pick in 2007, counts on another - a real shocker. "I have a full dunk in the cold tub. I shock my system," says Negrin, who after 17 games this season with the Comets has five assists.

Out of the ice, and before on it, by 9:30 am, Negrin can be found working out with strength and conditioning coach Ken Hetzel. Next up, there are video meetings on previous and upcoming Comets' games; ideas shared with coaches on attacking his game. By 10:30 - 11:00 am, it's practice time in an empty AUD.

Between time working on his game and maintaining his body so he can continue his work, waiting and hoping for that promotion back to NHL often has proven to be a lonely journey. 

Coming from West Vancouver, BC, and holding a roster spot for his hometown Canucks' primary affiliate, there's no denying that Negrin could feel extra pressure. Self-inflicted, perhaps. Such is the reality of a nine-year pro, who has skated for seven teams, but with three NHL games to his credit.

Keeping the dream alive and honestly assessing his opportunities, these are work place issues facing John Negrin each morning.

"You learn to live with pressure," offers Negrin. "You are given a chuck of money at an early age and deal with false confidences."

As a teenager, after juniors, this became the world Negrin was introduced. Touted as a top prospect, Negrin confides that he and others aren't always able to deal with such expectations. "At that age, you're not fully developed," adds Negrin.

By age 19, then Calgary Flames' general manager Darryl Sutter proclaimed the kid from West Vancouver just may crack the NHL roster the following fall. After finishing juniors with the Swift Current Broncos, in April 2009, Sutter put his hopes in Negrin, where he did his bragging. Flames' Dion Phaneuf went down, and Negrin was called up.

But, from that introduction to the NHL lifestyle eight years ago, even with a life span of three games, Negrin has been fighting to make a return ever since. Being in Utica for four years, for Negrin, has brought about a sense of comfort to his command of routine.

Playing his guitar, for one, eases the defenseman's hockey pressures.  Although he has frequented several clubs throughout the city, on Sunday evenings, Negrin has been known to frequent the Tramontane Cafe.

Over in Utica's west side, the neighborhood club on Lincoln Avenue has open-mic time.  Playing his guitar, and being absorbed in the welcoming atmosphere, allows for a short period for the once highly touted hockey prospect to be just John - the musician.

"For sure," Negrin says about feeling "at home" in Utica.  "You get to know the people, and stay in communication with them (beyond hockey)."

The connection Negrin has with his four-season host city is one that he has no hesitation in labeling (Utica) - as the best long stay he has had in North America.

"The people here (Utica) are so friendly," explains Negrin, 27.

As one of his favorite haunts, the appeal of hanging at the Tramontane Cafe centers around its owner Robin.  "She (Robin) calls herself the players' (Comets) mother," Negrin tells.

As his Utica teammates over the past four years have been getting called to Vancouver, some for the first time, others repeat offenders, Negrin still waits to be counted among the chosen.  Along with his teammates during the first two months of this regular season, a 10-14-3-1 Comets record, has Negrin stepping up his efforts on finding ways to win more games.

"I'm always thinking of ways to improve. I don't think of the past. I'm in a better space now," said Negrin of not living in his hockey past.

By his own admission, Negrin isn't a results kind of guy.  Speaking after a morning on-ice practice session lasting 45 minutes, Negrin is amazingly relaxed, minus the sweat beads steadily streaming down his face.  He is a man at rest, after nearly one hour of total unrest.

Although he comes from a committed family in BC, Negrin is a survivor. He speaks with clarity of when he moved out, as if it were yesterday.  Painting himself as a shy teenager, who stayed in his comfort zone, as a pro, Negrin continues to be a man without a place he could call home - for very long.

Survive he does well. Negrin takes a deep breath, and confides that he misses his three sisters. Occupation hazard, being a hockey vagabond. Living on one-year deals, for sure, will contribute to insecurity, optimism and at times loneliness.

Coming from the Vancouver area, growing up a Canucks fan, for Negrin came natural. With all his loyalty to both the Greater Vancouver area and his beloved Canucks, Utica ranks right up there as a special place to Negrin.  This past July, as a free-agent, Negrin could have taken his gear and NHL dreams elsewhere.

"When I got the call that I'd be back (in Utica), I couldn't have been happier," a smiling Negrin reveals.

Leaning against a wall just shy of the Comets' dressing room, Negrin recalls watching his favorite Canucks of years past play - Pavel Bure and Trevor Linden.

"They're a big part of my dreams. It was fun going to games, and watching them. "Ed Jovanovski and Todd Bertuzzi too."

Just as he believes that the Comets and Canucks teams are going in the right direction, and feeling as an honorary Utican after four years of visiting, Negrin refuses to call it quits on his NHL dreams.

Written by Don Laible

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