By Kirk Luedeke
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal.
If NHL teams are looking for defensemen with high-end skating skills, they don’t come much faster than Avon Old Farms standout Colin Sullivan.
The Milford, Conn., native completed his second season with the Winged Beavers, and although the team failed to defend its 2010 New England Prep School Ice Hockey Association title with a quarterfinal loss to Lawrence Academy, it was a strong season for Sullivan. The junior impressed his coach and NHL scouts alike with the significant progress he made from the previous season.
“He’s come a long way,” Avon head coach John Gardner (Avon, Conn.) said recently when asked about Sullivan’s development. “The most striking is his increased speed and strength.”
Gardner, the longtime prep coach who has presided over eight
titles in the
NEPSIHA tournament’s 30-year history, credited Sullivan with putting in the effort to make himself a legitimate prospect for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft in June.
“He works incredibly hard to get stronger and has done most of the work on his own,” Gardner said. “Consequently, his balance is better; his overall game has grown by leaps and bounds. He’s a good student of the game. He listens and learns; he’s very coachable.”
At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, Sullivan has nice size, but the real strength of his game is in his legs. An outstanding skater with explosive burst and top-end speed to get up and down the ice, he has the ability to rush the puck even if his style at Avon has tended to be more conservative and responsible defensively. Instead of the riverboat gambler-type offensive defenseman who constantly jumps up into the play like a fourth forward, Sullivan’s been more of a steady presence at both ends.
“Last year, I was a sophomore in my first year playing prep school hockey and it was a big jump for me going from (Connecticut) high school,” Sullivan told New England Hockey Journal. “This year, I tried to take on more of a leadership role, and it’s something I jumped right into and filled. I was a lot more confident in my second year and just took it from there.”
Avon posted an 18-7-2 record this season, and Sullivan accounted for a relatively modest three goals and 15 points in all of those contests. His strong two-way game earned him a spot on the 2011 NEPSIHA West All-Star team and the chance to take his game to Yale University in 2012.
While several other 2011 draft-eligible defensemen such as Delbarton School’s Matt Killian and Milton Academy rival Rob O’Gara also have committed to Yale recently, Sullivan has blue and white flowing through his veins. He grew up just minutes from Ingalls Rink, and his family has long held season tickets for the Bulldogs. It was always a dream of Sullivan’s to play for Yale, and the recruiting process saw the fulfillment of one of his earliest hockey wishes.
“I went out to the campus for my visit, and I saw the new facility, the rink. I was like a kid in a candy store,” Sullivan said. “I was so overwhelmed being around the team like that, and it felt surreal to be there after all those years of being a fan.
“Then, they took me into Coach (Keith) Allain’s (Worcester, Mass.) office, and he asked me to commit. My mom started crying and they were great. They said they’d give me a few weeks to think about it, but I said, ‘I don’t need the time.’ I committed right there, and it’s still a surreal feeling that I’m that much closer to achieving my dream of playing at Yale.”
The matter of where Sullivan will play in 2011-12 is still undecided; he can return to Avon for a third season, or he can opt for junior hockey. He’s reportedly drawing a lot of interest from the USHL and EJHL. As the 66th-ranked North American skater on Central Scouting’s midterm list released in January, Sullivan has attracted the notice of NHL scouts this season, and is confident in what he brings to the table in terms of having a chance at one day playing in The Show.
“I believe that my skating ability is just as good as anyone in the USHL or OHL and will allow me to play at a high level one day,” Sullivan said. “I would say that my play in front of my own net is something I’m trying to improve. There’s always something to work on. I’m improving my passing and shooting, even my skating and getting stronger. I’m always in the weight room; the work is never done.”
If scouts wondered about the fact that Sullivan has not used his elite speed to generate more chances off the rush, Gardner dispelled any notion that conservative guidance may have come from the bench.
“I didn’t put the reins on him.,” Gardner said. “I told him that if he saw an opening, he should go for it.”
Ultimately, Sullivan’s on-ice skills and off-ice training habits should provide him with an opportunity to realize his NHL dream.
“He’s got a good shot; he shoots the puck hard,” Gardner said. “His work ethic is outstanding. We have one guy who’s an ex-Marine (on the Avon staff) who says, ‘I just love the way (Colin) works out.’”
With that kind of an endorsement, Sullivan should see some of that work pay off in June when an NHL team calls his name.
Kirk Luedeke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.