Not a lot of Flames fans remember Rene Corbet these days. For good reason too; he was a wholly middling player and only haunted the Flames with his mediocrity for a brief period in the late ’90’s. Corbet was the first guy to sully the name "Rene" in Calgary before Rene Bourque finished the job this past season.
Corbet wasn’t memorable as a player for any particular reason, but his name has stuck in my head like a bad pop song over the years because of what he represented to me as a Flames fan at the time: Calgary’s fall from grace.
You see, Rene was one of the players the Flames received from Colorado in return for Theoren Fleury in 1999. Ten years removed from the organization’s one and only championship, Fleury was the lone reminder of the glory days remaining before ultimately being traded for Renes on the dollar (rimshot!).
The Fleury trade was the club’s final, bitter capitulation to inevitabilty. After approximately a decade of reigning as a perpetual favorite, a persistent contender in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the Flames fortunes had ultimately crested and rolled back, their prior crown now burnished. The franchise, once a juggernaut, bowed by years of shabby trades and undermined by a failing Canadian dollar, accepted its fate, swapped its lone star for magic beans and plunged headlong into the dark age known as "The Young Guns" era.
For my friends and I at the time, Rene Corbet was the manifestation of the club’s unseemly debasement. His name was a perpetual, cynical punchline forever after – the symbol of mediocrity accepted humbly in the wake of past but fading grandeur. Eventually, the true value fo the swap would be delivered with the ascension of Robyn Regehr as a premier shut-down defender, but at the time the only thing the faithful could think was "we traded Theoren Fleury for Rene Corbet."
Where Did he Come From?
Of course, none of this is at all fair to Corbet. He certainly didn’t ask to be traded for Theoren Fleury, nor, for that matter, to be the living embodiment of Calgary’s Icarus-like plunge from the heavens. Wrong place, wrong time and all that.
The funny thing is, despite an NHL career that spanned just 362 games and peaked with a 31-point effort in 1998-99, Corbet was a pretty damn good junior and AHL player. Drafted by Quebec 24th overall in 1991, Corbet would go on to score 96 points in just 46 games in 1992 and then 79 goals and 148 points in 63 games the year after. It was a bit easier to score in junior back then (Ian Laperierre managed 140 points that same season), but the numbers are pretty good nonetheless.
Corbet spent a couple of seasons in the AHL before managing the leap to the big league and he was fairly prolific there as well. As a rookie for the Cornwall Aces, for instance, Corbet managed 37 goals and 77 points to lead the team in scoring.
By the time Corbet was able to stick to the parent club for good, the Nordiques had moved to Colorado and were stacked with talent: Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Valeri Kamensky, Adam Deadmarsh, Mike Ricci, Claude Lemieux, Stephane Yelle, etc. As a result, Corbet was cast in the role as checker and pugilist in the NHL as a youngster, in part because he wasn’t shy about wracking up the PIMs in the lower leagues (although he wasn’t the biggest dude at 6’0" and 198 pounds).
The problem for Corbet was the Avalanche kept getting better, stocking the roster with more and more stars at the top of the rotation. Before he was dealt to the Flames in 1999, the Avalanche had promoted also 22 year old Chris Drury and MIlan Hejduk to the front of the class.
When he arrived in Calgary, Rene was a full-on NHL grinder: the year prior, he managed 28 points and 133 penalty minutes. Hockeyfights even has a page dedicated to Corbet, a six foot guy who was a near 150-point player in junior. The NHL is a dream for all who make it, no doubt, but the price can be pretty high for some.
Rene would last about half a season with Calgary. He was eventually dealt to the Penguins for Brad Werenka in 2000. His final year in the NHL with Pittsburgh was beset by injuries, which provved to be the death knell of his pro career in North America.
Where’d He Go?
Corbet’s days in the show were over and he was no longer a totem of failure in Calgary. He didn’t throw in the towel, however. In 2001, he moved to Germany and started playing for the Manheim Eagles in the DEL. Unlike most failed, North American NHL players who jump overseas to flirt with various leagues, Corbet was in Germany to stay. He persisted in Mannheim for eight seasons, captained the club to several championships and ultimately retired as the franchises all-time leading goal getter. Not even Fleury did that after his NHL career was over.
According to wikipedia, Corbet finally retired from hockey in 2011 after playing a couple of seasons with the Frisk Tigers of, uh, some Norwegian league. He would have been about 38 at the time.
Like Todd Simpson, Valeri Bure and Rob Niedermayer, Rene Corbet will always be somewhat stained in my mind because of his lingering association to one of the darkest times in Flames history. Still, outside of that unfortunate circumstance, Corbet was a great Canadian Junior player, a capable AHLer, a competent (if unlucky) NHLer and a hero of near Hasselhoffian heights in Germany.
Kudos Rene. And damn you.