By Don Stewart
READING, Pa. – During Wednesday afternoon’s practice, Shawn Collymore was meshing with his teammates so harmoniously that Reading Royals coach Karl Taylor skated up to him before leaving the ice.
“Have you been here for a week or eight months?” Taylor asked the 24-year-old center. “It’s like you never left.”
Collymore certainty doesn’t seem like a guy who’s missed most of the season.
Entering Sunday, he’d scored in all eight games he’d played with the Royals since returning to the ECHL Feb. 18, racking up four goals and eight assists while skating to a plus-6.
Off the ice, he’s fit right back in with a close-knit Royals group.
“They’re great guys this year again,” Collymore said. “Yeah, it’s been pretty easy coming back. I’m not the biggest mouth in the locker room, but I like to joke around.”
Collymore’s return to the Royals was a pleasant surprise. The Quebec native signed on for a second year with Reading last summer, then made the opening night roster for the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals.
By the time February rolled around, it was largely forgotten that the Royals owned Collymore’s ECHL rights. So when he came back to Reading, it was a rare case of the Royals getting a bonus acquisition from the AHL rather than losing another key player to a call-up.
“It’s kind of like getting a free guy,” said Taylor.
The speedy Collymore was Reading’s third-leading scorer last winter, when he racked up 48 points in 56 games and earned an extended call-up to Binghamton.
He said he didn’t do anything special, training-wise, in the offseason. But Collymore did spend a month working a manual-labor job, which provided a bit of a reality check.
“That was just awful,” Collymore said of the job. “I know it was only a month of manual labor and people go through a lifetime, but it gave me a little picture of how lucky you are to be in hockey. Might as well go work hard when you’re on the ice, because it’s just fun.”
Taking that spirit into Norfolk’s training camp, Collymore surprised the Admirals enough to earn a roster spot. Most opening night AHL spots are reserved for players with NHL or AHL deals, so Collymore making it as a non-contracted tryout guy was a bit of an upset.
“It was awesome,” he said. “I was surprised. I was just surprised because everyone knows the situation. But I felt like I played well enough to make it. I had a really good camp. I was pleased that they gave me the opportunity.”
Collymore had a goal, an assist and was plus-2 in seven games before suffering a separated shoulder Nov. 2 against Bridgeport when he took what he describes as an awkward, blind-side hit.
He missed 15 games and more than a month before returning Dec. 15. In his third game back, though, Collymore aggravated the injury and was knocked out until mid February.
By the time Collymore was ready to return, the Admirals had found adequate replacements in Royals captain Bracken Kearns and Wheeling forward Adam Henrich. So Collymore was activated Feb. 18 and promptly released.
“I can’t lie, there’s some disappointment,” he said. “But I was expecting it. I was hurt up there. But it’s never bad coming down and seeing the guys from here that continued on from last year. I made a lot of good friendships and I’m happy to be back.
“I’m actually feeling pretty good. Up there, I hadn’t been playing for a while. It was tough. I was injured. I was watching hockey games. Now I get to come back to a familiar place where it’s almost like family. I’m happy to come back here.”
He was hurt for most of it, but the time spent in the AHL appears to have boosted Collymore’s game. He’s quickly worked his way onto a hot line with center Patrick Jarrett and winger Joe Zappala, where Collymore plays on the wing.
“The guys love him,” Taylor said. “He’s an easy guy to get along with. He has a great spirit when he comes to the rink. He comes to work, he’s excited to be on the ice. Wants to do well. Sees the team, sees we have potential, and he’s excited to be a part of it.
“We’re happy to have him and he’s happy to be here.”