When the Boston Badgers made LW Cary Estabrook their first-ever player signing, it seemed like a movie script come to life. Estabrook was a native of Rhode Island and played college hockey at the University of Massachusetts. In college, he caught the eye of Jody Melchiorre, then a scout for the Anchorage Igloos. Estabrook suffered a major knee injury as a senior and the Igloos passed on him. But Melchiorre never forgot what he saw, and when he signed on as GM of the expansion Badgers, his first move was to sign Estabrook to a contract. The young winger dreamed of starring in the same area where he’d grown up.
Reality, though, doesn’t always unfold like a movie. Estabrook’s tenure in Boston was a miserable experience for both him and the team. He struggled with his conditioning and off-ice habits, clashed with coach Cam Prince, and failed to produce. Finally, after a season and a half, the Badgers finally pulled the plug, trading the 24-year-old to the Hamilton Pistols in exchange for F Norris “Beaver” Young.
“This one stings for me, because I think Cary’s a special young man,” said Melchiorre. “But clearly, things haven’t worked out the way either of us would have wanted. I think a fresh start is the best thing.”
During his rookie season in 2018, Estabrook found that the lingering after-effects of his college injury robbed him of crucial speed, and his performance wasn’t up to par. He reportedly took to drinking and partying excessively, which further impacted his game.
This caused Estabrook to run afoul of Prince, a battle that came to a head when Estabrook overslept and missed a team meeting. Shortly thereafter, the Badgers demoted Estabrook to their minor-league affiliate in Hartford. He’d played 28 games with the Badgers, failing to record a point and putting up a -23 rating.
Prince and the Badgers gave Estabrook another shot this year; he broke camp as the third-line left winger. But his on-ice and off-ice struggles continued, as he rotated in and out of the lineup. In 21 games this season, Estabrook had a goal to go with a -12 rating, worst on the team.
“I’m really disappointed with the way everything turned out here,” Estabrook told reporters. “I feel like I let everyone down. I know I have no one but myself to blame. But I have to pick myself up and move on to the next thing,”
The 24-year-old Young was drafted by the Pistols in 2016. He spent two seasons on their bottom line, totaling 31 points (15 goals, 16 assists). After spending the 2018 season with their farm club in Oshawa, he returned to the big club this season. He split time on the third line with RW Michael Jennings. In 16 games this season, Young had 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) and a +2 rating.
“Younger was a solid contributor for us, and we will miss him,” said Pistols GM Marcel LaClaire. “But we are excited about Cary. We think there’s a lot of untapped potential there, and we think he can be a real asset in the right situation. We believe that our organization and our coaching staff will help him thrive.”
For Hamilton, which has lagged in the playoff chase in spite of strong underlying numbers, Estabrook represents a low-stakes gamble that could pay dividends down the stretch. For Estabrook, Hamilton represents a chance to start over. He may not have lived his dream of starring with the local team, but he’s still young and has a chance at a solid SHL career… if he can avoid repeating the mistakes that doomed him in Boston.
“If I screw this up, I know I might not get another chance,” said Estabrook. “So I’m going to make sure I don’t screw this up.”