Last spring, Jeremy Colliton’s concussion complications relegated the former NHL forward to spectator status as his Bridgeport Sound Tigers suffered their own headache in the opening round of the American Hockey League playoffs.
They lost all three of their playoff games to finish an abbreviated season for Colliton, who was a “glorified assistant coach” for Bridgeport’s aborted run.
“I had some concussion issues last year and I just never got better,” Colliton said April 20 after winning the Canadian senior championship with the Bentley Generals.
Including four games in the weeklong Allan Cup tournament at Red Deer Arena, Colliton played 15 games with the Generals since being given the doctor’s green light in February to resume action.
The Blackie native had been idle since last season, which was derailed because of two concussions he incurred with the Sound Tigers, the AHL affiliate of the New York Islanders.
“It just took a long time to come around,” he said. “I still want to play.
“It turned out that I wasn’t ready (this season) for the European transfer deadline. I had been talking to Bentley all year, and they called me just as I was starting to feel better. ‘Come out.’ So I did. It’s been a great opportunity.
“It was perfect for me, because I literally got cleared by the doctor and I played two days later — the beginning of February.”
As he showed when the Generals staved off the pesky Clarenville Caribous of Newfoundland 3-0 in the national senior final, Colliton can still play the game well. After all, he’s still relatively young at age 28, and he has seven years of pro experience.
Both finalists were loaded with skilled players who have played at the pro, major junior and university levels. And even if the Allan Cup seems like a long way from the NHL, the smell of champagne drifting from the Bentley dressing room long after Saturday’s game would suggest championships taste the same across the board.
“Anytime you can win a national championship, that’s pretty awesome,” said Colliton, who won world junior gold and silver medals during his two terms as Sidney Crosby’s teammate with Team Canada.
“It’s important. People don’t give this (senior) level of hockey the respect it deserves. It’s not easy. There are lots of guys who’ve played a ton of pro games who come here (and are challenged). It’s tough. It’s small rinks and not a lot of space and you’ve got to battle. You’ve got to grind, and you’ve got to respect the level it is and the league and the players, because they lay it on the line.
“Just like today in the final, we had to grind for 60 minutes to win. We knew that’s what we had to do, and because we did, we get to be champions.”
The Generals were crowned champions in front of about 2,000 fans who packed the storied Red Deer rink for the nationally televised final Saturday evening. The partisan crowd was filled with friends and family members, including Colliton’s wife and their 10-monthold son, Ben.
“His first year, we win a championship, so we’ll keep that going,” Colliton said with a smile.
Likewise, he hopes to keep his hockey career going. Not only did his senior stint produce a national title, it also gave Colliton a test run of sorts in his recovery from concussions.
While sitting out last season, “I had symptoms the whole time,” he said. “It just never went away. (Even the experts) don’t know much about concussions, but for me, I’m just so grateful that it’s cleared up and I’ve played 15 games now and I’ve had some good, hard collisions and everything is good. So I’m excited to carry on.
“I’m going to play (pro) next year. I don’t know where, but I’ll be going somewhere. I’m still pretty young for a hockey player. Guys are playing till they’re 40. I’m 28, so I’ve got a lot of years left.”
Colliton was a second-round draft pick of the Islanders in 2003. Including 57 NHL games, he played in New York’s organization before and after a Swedish stint four seasons ago.
His teammates this winter in Bentley included former NHL players Travis Brigley, Trent Hunter and Darren Van Impe. The Generals’ lineup also featured Colliton’s acquaintances from his younger hockey days in Alberta.
“My wife is from the Strathmore-Carsland area,” said the former Prince Albert Raiders’ captain. “She’s cousins with (Generals defenceman Brett) Thurston, so that helped. Growing up, I’d been around those guys, so we all knew each other, played against each other.
“That made it an easy transition. To walk right into a new dressing room in February, it’s not always easy, but it’s a great group of guys and we just wanted to win.
“This is excellent hockey. I knew half the (Bentley) guys already and made some great friends that I hadn’t known before. And now we’ve won, so you never forget those guys.”
Colliton was counted on to juggle defensive and offensive assignments with the Generals.
“Obviously, with this team, I had a little more of an offensive role, but in a tournament, game by game, you just do whatever it takes to win,” he said in echoing the playoff slogan posted on Bentley’s dressing-room door.
“It doesn’t matter who gets the goals. It’s like playoffs. A lot of times, the top guys cancel out, and it’s the guys who grind who score. You’ve got to be willing to do everything. You’ve got to be willing to kill penalties and pay the price and be physical. We had four lines of guys who were willing to do that, so it makes all the difference.”
The Generals and Caribous each posted two victories to win their respective three-team pools, and went on to score semifinal victories. Bentley edged the Kenora (Ont.) Thistles 3-2, while Clarenville topped the Rosetown (Sask.) Redwings 6-2.
The legendary Allan Cup has been awarded since 1909. Bentley won the national crown in 2009 and reached the final in 2010 and 2011. Clarenville won the 2011 title.