By Dave Eminian
Of The Journal Star
PEORIA, ILL. – You can’t miss CamThe last time Cam Severson was on the ice in Carver Arena, the Peoria Rivermen were skating around with the Kelly Cup.
The former Rivermen power forward still wears his championship ring, and still looks back to the rookie year he spent here in 1999-2000.
“So long ago now,” said Severson, 27, who will lead the Omaha Knights against the Rivermen Friday and Saturday as the AHL clubs play a two-game divisional series. “I’ve seen it all since I left here. Taken the grand tour of the hockey world. You name the league, pretty much I’ve played in it.”
There was Oklahoma City of the Central Hockey League and Quad City of the United Hockey League, both circuits at the class-A level of the pro game. There was Portland, Cincinnati, Hartford and Milwaukee in the class-AAA American Hockey League.
There was Louisiana in the class-AA ECHL, which had an older lineup and didn’t want the then-rookie back in 1999, sending him to Jackson. Peoria later claimed the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Severson off waivers from Jackson – for free – and he played a key role on a checking line with Trevor Baker and Jason Lawmaster that helped the Rivermen win it all.
“I’ve always been a third-line checking guy,” Severson said. “That’s who I am. When Nashville didn’t qualify my contract last summer, I became a free agent, and Calgary and Boston were interested.
“There was too much unknown for me about Boston. Calgary, though, seemed like a team of guys who play like me. They are a hard-nosed, hard-working team. Their coach (Darryl Sutter) drafted me when he was at San Jose, so I knew him, knew what to expect.
“I fit with the organization.”
So he signed with Calgary and was sent to Omaha, the Flames’ new primary farm club. The Knights are painfully young, dressing 11 rookies and five second-year players. But they’ve played past regulation in four of their last seven games.
“We don’t know how to protect a lead yet, but we’ll learn,” Severson said. “I have a different role now. I’m a veteran and I feel like I have a lot to offer. It’s a new challenge for me. This Omaha team, we’re going to turn some heads.”
Severson’s only ring is the one he earned in Peoria. He went on to Quad City, played 46 games for a UHL championship team in 2000-01 and earned an AHL call-up, but was slapped in the face when the Mallards left him of their ring list.
He joined Hartford in 2001-02, the year after the club won the AHL’s Calder Cup. He was in Milwaukee last season, again a year after its Calder Cup win.
In between, there was an NHL debut and 33-game stint with Anaheim in 2002-03 and ’03-04. Severson played for the Ducks team that reached the Stanley Cup Finals against New Jersey in ’02-03. He made his playoff debut in the Detroit series.
“It was an incredible just to be on the ice with all those great NHL names,” Severson said. “Then to be with a team that gets in the finals. We were underdogs all year, every step of the way.
“We picked up (right wing) Steve Thomas on the trade deadline, and I spent a lot of time around him, watching him. That was a guy who was 40 years old, in his 20th season, and no rings. I saw how bad he wanted it. And that’s when I really understood what it takes to get to that level and stay there.
“I haven’t given up on that.”
Severson’s NHL debut was in a March 30, 2003 win over Vancouver. The following season, on Feb. 18, 2004, he notched his first NHL goal in a 3-1 win over Columbus, describing the play as “one where I’m still not sure I even touched the puck, but it slithered behind the goalie and got in, and I’m never giving it back.”
On March 16, 2004, he notched the game-winner in Anaheim’s 3-2 win at Phoenix.
Somehow, 464 pro games went by, and Severson found himself in the Omaha training room this week, telling his young teammates stories from Peoria’s championship season.
He is married now, and spends his offseason in Spokane, Wash., with his wife, Kim. He also resides in Peoria’s 24-year franchise history as one of 16 players to play for the Rivermen, then go on to be part of a team that reaches the Stanley Cup Finals.
“The three greatest moments in my hockey career,” Severson volunteered. “My first NHL game. My first NHL goal. And the Kelly Cup with Peoria.
“And I wouldn’t put those in any order.”