Colliton calls it a career
Hockey: Injury forces early retirement for former NHLer
Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 06:00 am
One of Blackie’s biggest on-ice exports was forced to cut his professional hockey career short at the age of 29.
Former New York Islanders forward Jeremy Colliton hung up his skates after dealing with post-concussion symptoms since the beginning of the season with Mora IK of the HockeyAllsvenskan in Sweden.
“I had always thought I could play until my mid thirties at least, and to have those years taken away was devastating,” Colliton said. “My son (one year-old Benjamin) won’t remember watching me play, I have another boy on the way. It’s very sad for me when I sit back to think about it.
“The bottom line is I was putting my future health at risk by playing anymore, and who knows the damage that’s already been done. I just couldn’t justify it.”
Colliton, who suffered six concussions over the course of his career, sustained his latest head injury during his second game with Mora on a seemingly innocent play.
“It wasn’t that big of a collision really, I just didn’t see it coming. I didn’t have the puck,” he said. “I’m still not 100 per cent. At the beginning it’s more headache, nausea, pressure in the head, trouble sleeping. As time goes on and the more serious symptoms go away, it’s just not feeling clear, visual stimuli causing disorientation. The grocery store was a big challenge for some time.”
He said hockey is slowly wilting away its antiquated views on head shots and player protection, adding there’s still work to be done for full change to come.
“I think people are more aware now of the danger, but for me the damage has been done,” he said. “I think it will take some time to change the culture to where it’s taboo to hit in the head. It took many years to get to this point where five-10 years ago, I would say it was glorified.”
Despite calling it quits before hitting 30 years of age, Colliton crammed a plethora of career highlights and accomplishments in a decade plus since debuting with the Western Hockey League’s Prince Albert Raiders in 2001-02.
The six-foot-three centre would serve as captain in his final two seasons with the Raiders, earning a second-round draft selection from the New York Islanders in 2003 – widely considered to be the best draft class of the past several decades.
He would represent Team Pacific at the 2002 U-17 World Hockey Challenge, win gold with Canada at the U18 World Championships in 2003 and skate to a silver and then a gold medal at the 2004 and 2005 World Junior Championships alongside the likes of Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf and Jeff Carter.
Colliton got his first taste of NHL action in 2005-06, suiting up in 19 games, and would split the next four seasons with the Islanders and their AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
After spending the 2009-10 season with Rögle of the Swedish Elite League, Colliton returned to the Islanders organization in 2010-11 and would go on to spend most of two seasons with the Sound Tigers and serve as team captain in 2011-12. Colliton finished with three goals and six points in 57 NHL games.
Colliton added to his medal collection in 2013 by winning the Allan Cup, the Senior AAA national championship, as a late-season addition to the Bentley Generals before heading to Sweden for his injury shortened swan-song as a professional.
It’s a career Colliton looked back on fondly when asked about his biggest source of pride as a professional.
“Probably playing as much as I did in the NHL, my involvement with Team Canada at U17, U18, U20,” he said. “Being named a captain to many different teams, that meant a lot to me.”
As one door closed, another opened for the 29-year-old.
Colliton, who was making plans to come back to Canada after retiring, was unexpectedly asked to take over behind the bench of Mora when the team reshuffled its coaching staff in the midseason.
“The staff here in Mora knew I was interested in coaching and also that I had worked with the (Junior A) Mustangs in Calgary last year as an assistant,” Colliton said. “The club director approached me and asked if I would stay and step in for the rest of the season.
“I have a passion for the game, there is so much to love about it. I feel like I have a lot to offer the players, I’ve had so many great coaches and you try to take a little from everyone and add to how you think about how a team should play.”
And what better way to stay close to the game than to remain on the bench, in the dressing room and on the ice at practice.
“It’s as close to playing as you can get without being on the ice,” he said. “It has to work for our family though, my wife (Jen) has been dragged around the world for the last few years and now we have two additions to think about as well.
“We are not sure about next year. We love Sweden and that’s why we came back this year in the first place, it’s a great place to raise a family and the quality of life is very similar to what you get in Canada.”
Where it all began.
From frigid mornings at the Blackie Arena to golden nights with Team Canada in Yaroslavl and Grand Forks to wearing a letter in two continents – all for the love of our national pastime.
“The starting point for any player has to be love for the game, if you’re really enjoying what you do the hard work required doesn’t seem like work. Hockey is a great game, so play as long as you can.”