Chris Collins is Working His Way Up Through the Pro Ranks
The Kalamazoo Wings are in the middle of a tight playoff race with Fort Wayne, Wheeling and Indy for the final two playoff spots in the Central Division. The offense has been the key to success as of late for the Wings who, after a slow start to the regular season, have climbed their way into playoff contention. Along with excellent production from Justin Taylor, Kyle Blaney, and Tanner Sorenson, a prominent talent for the K-Wings has been rookie Chris Collins. The Calgary, Alberta native currently has 55 points in 45 games, which ranks second among ECHL rookies and is tied for ninth in league scoring.
It certainly has not been an easy road to the professional ranks for Collins, who played junior hockey for the Chilliwack Bruins and Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League. He averaged just over half-a-point per game in his WHL career, with 108 points in 200 games played, including a 46-point performance in the 2010-2011 season. Collins earned a pair of NHL training camp invites during his junior career with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2010 and the Phoenix Coyotes in 2011.
Following the 2011-12 season, Collins was not given an opportunity to come back to play for the Blades, as the club had too many players that were over the age of 20. With no spot on the Blades roster available for him, he joined the Okotoks Oilers of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, where he found a sliver-lining playing back in Alberta.
“It was nice, because I got to go play close to home,” Collins stated. “I made a lot of good friends, and we had a good run.”
In 2013, Collins enrolled at the University of Calgary, and joined the Dinos as a member of the men’s varsity hockey team. After an impressive rookie season where he put up 36 points, Collins was named to the USports All-Rookie Team, along with earning Canada West Rookie of the Year honors. Collins agreed that the five years playing at Calgary was extremely valuable, not just because he earned an education, but also because he had the chance to play in his hometown.
“It was great to play hockey at home again, my parents were able to come to every game. You play with the same guys for four or five years, so I developed a lot of close relationships there as well.”
Collins’ play following his rookie season at Calgary earned him an opportunity to play for Team Canada at the 2015 Winter Universiade, where his eight points in the tournament helped Canada win the bronze medal.
“[The Universiade] is up there in my top three best hockey experiences for sure. Getting to wear the Maple Leaf, and building bonds with the other teams from Canada, it was definitely an experience I will remember for sure.”
After an impressive collegiate career where he scored 131 points over five seasons, Collins knew it was time to make the jump to pro hockey. While looking for a team, he had help from another Calgarian, K-Wings captain Ben Wilson.
“[Wilson] grew up a couple minutes down the road from me. He talked to me to see if I was interested in coming to Kalamazoo, and he told me a lot of good things about the organization and the culture that is around here. [Head Coach] Nick Bootland took a chance on me, because he hadn’t seen me play, and he was really going through Wilson to help get me to Kalamazoo.”
Collins is sure to mention that his teammates are a big part of his personal success in his first year with the K-Wings.
“I’ve been able to play with some pretty great players here who’ve made putting up points a lot easier. Playing with guys like [Reid] Gardiner and [Tanner] Sorenson make me look better than I am.”
On January 16th, Kalamazoo defeated Fort Wayne in a wild 10-8 barn-burner. Collins had four points on the night, but would not expect what was coming to him after the game.
“The coaches called me into their office, and in my head, I had no idea what was going on. It was a pretty big shock when they told me.”
What they told Collins was that he was called up by the Manitoba Moose, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets. Collins played nine games with the Moose and registered two goals, his first coming in only his second game with the club. Even though he was only with Manitoba for a brief period, Collins was quick to absorb as much as he could while he was there.
“[Learning] the focus on defensive play, that was a big part of the game when I was playing with them. Also, the consistency they were playing every night was the most surprising.”
When he came back to Kalamazoo, it did not take him too long to get reacquainted with the ECHL, as he scored in his first game back with the K-Wings, coincidentally, against Fort Wayne.
Even after having the taste of the AHL, Collins mindset is focused on the present with the Wings, as they get ready for the playoffs. If his first season in the ECHL is any indication, the future is bright for the young Collins.