Waywayseecappo is a city in the beautiful Canadian province of Manitoba, and it’s the home of the Waywayseecappo Wolverines of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, a Tier II Canadian league. For two years, it was the home of Columbus forward Sean Collins, who made his NHL debut Monday in the distant city of Anaheim, California.
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Collins was a late hockey bloomer, but he flourished in Waywayseecappo, especially in his second season with the Wolverines. After putting up 21 goals and adding 35 assists in 59 games his first year with the team, Collins absolutely exploded the next season, scoring 51 goals with 64 assists in 60 games. That season caught the attention of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who chose him in the seventh round of the 2008 draft.
The plan was always to go to college, and by playing Tier II junior hockey, Collins maintained his U.S. college eligibility. He ended up in a pretty good spot, for hockey and for life, studying finance at Cornell University, where he played and stayed all four years.
So what was it like for the kid who took the less-traveled path to the NHL to hear he’d gotten the call and his NHL dream was coming true?
“It was kind of whirlwind,” he said. “I was actually getting ready for a game in Springfield (Springfield Falcons, Blue Jackets AHL affiliate), and the coach (Brad Larsen) called me in. He loves the element of surprise, and he was just giving me a little pep talk before the game, then toward the end he said, ‘Well you won’t need that, you’re going up to Columbus.’ At that point, there were a lot of emotions going through me and a lot of excitement.”
Watching the game, you wouldn’t have known the 6’3 forward from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, had been a cauldron of emotions. He looked composed and comfortable on the ice in his NHL debut, and he credits his teammates.
“I felt great,” said Collins. “My linemates Brass and Umby (Derek Brassard and R.J. Umberger) did a great job of just making me feel comfortable. They said just go out and play your game; it’s just another hockey game. It’s great, too, that the systems here are very similar to the systems in Springfield, so it makes it almost a seamless transition.”
Not even a little nervous, for his very first game in the NHL?
“A little bit in warm-ups actually,” he admitted, “just looking around and you see Teemu Selanne and some of the other guys on the Ducks you’ve grown up idolizing. But after that, and after I got a few shifts under my belt, I felt great.”
Collins played wing in his NHL debut Monday against the Ducks. But he’s a natural centerman with a big body, who’s no stranger to the defensive side of the puck. He says he became a more well-rounded player at Cornell, where head coach Mike Schafer teaches and preaches a pretty buttoned-down system. The Big Red traditionally don’t like to get involved in 5-4 river hockey type games.
“You learn the game from the defensive side out,” is the way the 23-year-old Collins put it.
Despite the defense-first philosophy at Cornell, Collins was able to score 13 goals and 26 points overall in 35 games during the 2011-12 season, his senior year. It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest he could have doubled that total playing in a more wide-open college hockey system. And after that strong senior year for the Big Red, he has shown an offensive flair at times for Springfield. But it’s his two-way play that may in the long run give Collins the best chance to do what he’s hoping to do, stick in the NHL. In the meantime, he’s going to relish this opportunity and not worry about making a mistake.
“No, I don’t think you can,” he said of playing a careful game. “You have to play your game. You have to be relaxed and confident out there. I think that’s the biggest thing. If you play with confidence, everything else will take care of itself.”
Sounds like Ivy League composure to me. By way of Waywayseecappo.