By Nick Bedway
Copyright © 2006 The Intelligencer & Wheeling News Register
WHEELING, W.Va. – Off the ice, second-year Wheeling Nailers winger Sean Collins comes across as the quiet, reserved type who would be difficult to pick out in a crowd.
Put him on a pair of skates and open the door to the rink at WesBanco Arena, however, and you will see a determined, quick-handed and quick-footed hockey player who is constantly in motion. Watching him fly around the ice, someone might get the idea his pants are on fire. He just never stops.
And it’s the same whether Collins is taking part in speed drills, an intrasquad scrimmage like the one held Tuesday morning, or a Kelly Cup Playoffs game.
What you see from Sean Collins is what you get.
All the time.
“It’s the only way I know how to play,” he responded to our question during a post-practice interview. One of his first hockey coaches in his small Massachusetts hometown of Reading was his dad, who taught him the skills of the game and a blue-collar work ethic.
“I’m not the biggest guy out there and I’m not going to overpower anybody,” Collins pointed out. His height and weight are listed as being 5-foot-9 and 178 pounds. While both numbers seem to be inflated a tad, fans in Wheeling found out last season Collins’ hustle and competitive nature make him appear unstoppable at times.
“I have to keep moving, looking to find an open area on the ice where I can get the puck to shoot it or — better yet — set up one my teammates,” he said.
Coach Glenn Patrick considers Collins to be more valuable as a playmaker than a scorer.
Last season when Collins was named to the ECHL All-Rookie Team and played in the ECHL All-Star Game, he scored a career-best 27 goals and added 49 assists for a total of 76 points.
Not bad numbers for the four-year University of New Hampshire forward, whose collegiate high was 22 goals in 2003.
“He gets just as much pleasure out of setting up a teammate as he does scoring a goal,” Patrick said.
When asked to point out his still-maturing player’s best assets, Patrick listed, “Quickness, strength and knowledge of the game. He knows what he is doing out there,” Patrick said.
Assistant Coach Ryan Patrick says Collins, “may be a little small but he is learning how to use his quickness to dodge big hits.”
While Glenn Patrick admits size could be a deterrent to Collins’ hopes to earn a permanent spot on an American Hockey League roster, he doesn’t think it will stop him.
“It may take him a couple years longer than he had hoped, but if he keeps working hard and improving, I think he definitely has a chance,” Patrick added.
Collins did get an eight-game look-see opportunity with the Nailers’ AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre last season, logging one assist and two penalty minutes. He was invited to the Baby Penguins training camp last month and believed he did fairly well before reporting back for a second season in Wheeling.
“While I definitely want to play in the AHL, I didn’t mind coming back here. When I saw that a lot of the guys that I played with last year were also back, it was a no-brainer for me,” Collins said.
Combined, the trio of Collins, Jordan and McLean accounted for 190 points. Jordan had 25 goals and 33 assists, while McLean managed 25 goals and 31 assists.
Collins and McLean combined on one of Collins’ goals in Tuesday’s scrimmage. Jordan also returned for another season in Wheeling.
“With those guys back along with ‘Cheese’ (Bo Cheesman), Andy Franck and some of the others, we have a chance to have another good season. We were disappointed that we couldn’t take it another step further in the playoffs but we did finish second in our division and we made it to the second round before Toledo beat us in the fifth game,” Collins pointed out.
The Nailers’ 24-man roster headed into Friday night’s home preseason game against the Johnstown Chiefs features 10 players who spent part or all of the past season in Wheeling. “We’ve got solid goaltending with Andy and Kevin Schieve. And I’ve also been impressed with the new guys on the team. Once we get everybody used to playing with each other and develop the chemistry we need, I think we are going to be very tough to beat,” Collins said.
Collins, a ninth-round draft choice of the Colorado Avalanche in 2002, had a notable college career before turning professional last season. His freshman season in 2002 saw Collins score 20 goals and add 25 assists for 45 points. One of his goals was a game-winner that gave New Hampshire its first-ever Hockey East Championship.
During his sophomore season, he had 30 points and helped lead the Wildcats to a second straight Hockey East final. The 2003 season also saw New Hampshire advance to the NCAA Frozen Four where it lost to Minnesota.
Collins was named a first team All-America player after his senior season in 2005 after leading UNH in scoring with 56 points in 42 games. Collins’ teammates voted him the Wildcats best offensive player. He finished fifth overall in scoring among Division I skaters and was tied for second in assists.
His four-season total of 77 goals is 10th on New Hampshire’s all-time scoring list. With 173 points, he finished in a tie for 12th place in Wildcats hockey annals, sharing that spot with Pittsburgh Penguins center Eric Boguniecki.
Collins’ first season with the Nailers saw him named the ECHL Rookie of the Month for October. He was named to the American Conference All-Star roster and ended up starting the game when Nailers linemate McLean was on a call up to the AHL.