"Nothing will ever be handed to you," reads the biography line on the Twitter account of defenseman Charlie Dodero, who will be 23 years old just before play starts this season for most North American pro hockey leagues. That bio line is a truth to most every minor league player who hopes to ascend to something more - you have to earn that right and not just expect it to fall into your lap. Reputation, impressions left, that'll raise a players profile and (with the right opportunities) earn him a chance to further make an impression.
Dodero's name shouldn't mean much of anything to Tampa Bay Lightning fans, Dodero is not a prospect with the Bolts or any NHL team for that matter; he was undrafted in his amateur career that went through the USHL and OHL. He had only played in the ECHL - with the Greenville Road Warriors and the Idaho Steelheads - at the pro level up until last season.
See, the thing is that he earned relevance last winter in the second half of the season. Not at the NHL level where attention and focus tends to be. Earned opportunity came knocking by way of the NHL team and the pratfalls of the game - injuries. Matt Carle and Radko Gudas both succumbed to injuries, leading to the recall of Nikita Nesterov and Luke Witkowski from the Syracuse Crunch, leading to a hole to fill on the roster of the AHL team.
Up until January 15, Dodero had played 33 games with the Steelheads, posting 3 goals and 9 assists (and 81 penalty minutes) in that time; he was a minus-1 as well. The numbers might not impress you but his reputation had impressed someone integral to getting him a fill-in shot with the Crunch: Assistant coach Trent Cull. Cull had been head coach of the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL during Dodero's tenure with the club until they both finished with the team after the 2012-13 season concluded.
There was a feature article on the reuniting of Cull and Dodero that had run in March which highlighted the impression Dodero had made with Cull during his time in Sudbury.
Despite not having coached Dodero since both finished up with the Wolves in 2013, Cull hadn't forgotten how well the Bloomingdale, Ill., native's speed, grit and diligent off-ice habits helped the Pack through three seasons.
You earn it through that type of reputation. That being said, chance does play into things and blind, stupid luck. Artem Sergeev was the Lightning property defenseman in the ECHL last season with the Florida Everblades and injury issues prevented a promotion to Syracuse to fill the void. There is also the fact Dodero's name was part of a list of player names submitted to Syracuse Crunch GM (and Lightning assistant GM) Julien BriseBois as recall candidates. Charlie got his name on that list by way of earned reputation with Cull, but his selection from that list was by way of luck and chance.
Will chance turn into earned chance for Dodero at the AHL level this coming season? The chance of a slot for Dodero in Syracuse again this season is very unlikely as Tampa Bay will have 2014 1st round pick Anthony DeAngelo joining the club as well as Daniel Walcott (acquired from the New York Rangers). There's also no telling who will ultimately make the Lightning (though Nikita Nesterov seems to likely be the 7th defenseman; camp will decide this). The corps of defensemen in Syracuse seems already filled, with DeAngelo, Walcott, Slater Koekkoek, Dylan Blujus, Matt Taormina, Joey Mormina, and Jake Dotchin. The lack of affiliation with an ECHL club at this point in time hurts the idea (but doesn't wipe it out) of having extra bodies in the system under AHL contracts, ready to be recalled to Syracuse if necessary.
Will Dodero earn an invite to Lightning prospect camp or training camp? That option is just as open to him with the 29 other NHL clubs right now. He's worked for it; it'd be nice to see him be rewarded for it with a chance.
If that chance doesn't come, he'll keep working for it because he knows never to expect it just handed to him.