By Kirk Luedeke
The day before he would lead his team to another Massachusetts state hockey championship, Malden Catholic captain and top scorer Brendan Collier stood near the Bobby Orr statue outside the TD Garden and talked about the journey that could lead him from Charlestown to the bright lights of the NHL one day.
|Brendan Collier helped lead Malden Catholic to back-to-back state titles. (Dave Arnold Photography)|
“I just love hockey,” he said as masses of St. Patrick’s Day revelers bustled past him. “I love everything about the game and going out and competing my hardest. Anytime you have a chance to win a championship, you have to make it count.”
Collier grew up in the shadow of the Boston Bruins’ barn, dreaming of one day playing in the National Hockey League. If the 30 teams have been paying attention to his stellar high school career, then the Boston University recruit has a good chance of being selected in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
“It would definitely be a dream come true,” Collier told New England Hockey Journal on the eve of one of his most important tests. “I’ve played hockey my whole life and obviously, you’re always working towards that goal of making it to the NHL.”
At about 5-foot-10, Collier may not cast an imposing figure when he takes the ice in Lancers blue and gold, but opponents who have underestimated him have often done so at a heavy price. With 27 goals and 64 points in just 22 games this season, Collier’s almost three-points-per-game pace is proof of his lethal stick, off-the-charts hockey sense and his drive, passion and determination to be a player. He played a critical role in all situations for a Lancers squad that went 21-1-2 for the season, losing its only game to Delbarton School (New Jersey) in December.
“I know I’m undersized, but I can make the plays that help my team win games,” he said. “I know that my head — the hockey sense I have — can make up for my lack of size and I just try to find ways to score.”
Collier may not even be a NCAA player yet, but he’s already accustomed to the TD Garden’s NHL ice surface, having led the Lancers to a pair of consecutive Massachusetts Division 1A hockey championships. He scored the overtime goal in 2011 to defeat St. John’s Prep, and then this year scored another to help beat BC High, 3-1 (see Page 42).
For those who know Collier from his early days in minor hockey, there are tales of him playing roller hockey for hours on his neighborhood streets, then rollerblading to his Middlesex Islanders ice hockey practices with fellow Townie and friend Matt Grzelcyk, who also is eligible for the 2012 draft and is a standout defenseman in the U.S. NTDP.
The two will be reunited at Boston University soon, with the opportunity to compete in the one signature tournament that most kids who grow up in Boston dream of playing in.
“Going to the Beanpot is going to be something really special,” he said. “There hasn’t been many Townies in it for a while now; it’s just something I’m going to look forward to and it’s just something that Charlestown can be proud of. I’m really happy to be a part of the tradition.”
Another close friend who will not be donning Terriers colors is fellow MC star Ryan Fitzgerald (North Reading, Mass.), a late ’94 birthdate who is eligible for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. The son of former Bruins forward Tom Fitzgerald (Billerica, Mass.), now assistant to the general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, has been joined at the hip with Collier in the years the two have skated together at MC.
Assuming he isn’t asked to report to BU a full season earlier than projected, Collier isn’t sure where he will play hockey in 2012-13. The USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms own his rights, and staying home to play in the EJHL is another possibility, but he said that any decision he makes likely will come from the advice he gets from BU coach Jack Parker (Somerville, Mass.)
Whatever he does may also be influenced by an NHL club who might call Collier’s name in Pittsburgh.
“He’s not a dynamic player for being on the small side,” an NHL scout said recently. “But Collier is one of those guys who comes through in huge moments. It seems like any time his team needs a goal, he’s either scoring it or making a big play to set it up. I think that at the right spot (in the draft), he is certainly worth considering.
“Collier’s challenge right now is that he’s coming from a lower level of competition. He’s been money in the bank as far as his production goes, but teams will wonder if he can sustain that at the next level.”
If Collier has his way he will leave the high school ranks as a champion and be rewarded for his efforts and production with an NHL draft selection before he takes his game to the NCAA.
“I’d like to say that I usually get it done,” he said when asked what he would tell an NHL club to sell them on picking him. “I’ve played on many stages of the game. Last year at nationals, I mean, I do well for myself on any stage I’m on and can adjust to any style of play.
“I just think it would be a great pick because I’ve proved myself through adversity and not having the height. I’ve showed my love and passion for the game and I feel that I can get it done no matter what.”
NEHJ Top Five
2012 NHL draft prospects
1. Brian Hart
Size: 6-foot-2, 215 pounds
Hometown: Cumberland, Maine
Current team: Phillips Exeter
The skinny: A wrist injury kept him out of the Beantown Classic tournament last month, but shouldn’t hamper his standing as the top area prospect for the June draft.
2. Robbie Baillargeon
Size: 6-0, 175
Hometown: Enfield, Conn.
Current team: Indiana (USHL)
The skinny: Maintained a solid point-per-game pace all season long, and more importantly, he did not wear down in the season’s second half. Underrated.
3. Jon Gillies
Size: 6-4, 205
Hometown: So. Portland, Maine
Current team: Indiana (USHL)
The skinny: Former Northeastern commit has prototypical size plus major upside; could be off the board before pick No. 50.
4. Chris Calnan
Size: 6-3, 195
Hometown: Norwell, Mass.
Current team: Noble & Greenough
The skinny: We were slow to come around on the Boston College-bound power forward, but NHL scouting buzz on him is that with his size, production (28 goals, 55 points) and potential, he’s a solid early-to-mid-round option.
5. Brendan Collier
Size: 5-10, 170
Hometown: Charlestown, Mass.
Current team: Malden Catholic
This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.
Kirk Luedeke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org