Jeremy Colliton

Why Blackhawks prospects are already buying what Rockford coach Jeremy Colliton is selling

Why Blackhawks prospects are already buying what Rockford coach Jeremy Colliton is selling

Luke Johnson has gotten a few chances to talk to Rockford head coach Jeremy Colliton, and he likes what the new coach is selling.

“He seems like a knowledgeable guy about the game,” said Johnson, who played 73 games with the IceHogs last season. “He’s a younger guy and his career wasn’t too long ago. That’s always nice having a younger coach that can kind of relate to us a little bit more. I’m looking forward to getting going with him and working with him.”

They’ve gotten to work together some already at the Blackhawks’ development camp this week, where Colliton has started to see who may be making up the IceHogs’ roster in a few months. The 32-year-old Colliton was a player himself not too long ago, and that connection has meant a smaller gap between he and his future players.

“I guess it’s another way to relate to them, another way to try and get the message across that they need to hear to get better,” Colliton said. “I’ve been in their shoes, I’ve been in their position and so hopefully that allows me to get that message across… whether it’s part of their game or what they’re doing off ice or how they approach things. There are so many things that can help them become Blackhawks. Getting that message across in different ways is a benefit.”

Colliton was among the coaches working with a group of prospects on Wednesday afternoon. Several of the players in that group either played some in Rockford last season (including Johnson and Matheson Iacopelli) or are headed there for the first time this fall. At the same time Colliton is learning himself, getting integrated in the Blackhawks’ way of doing things.

“Right from the first interview there’s been a discussion on how the Blackhawks want to play, and it fits well with how I see the game and how we played in Mora,” said Colliton of the team he coached in Sweden prior to returning to the states. “Whether it’s new guys as first-year pros or guys who have been there before, we have to continue to play at a high pace, have the puck as much as possible and play that up-tempo style that’s given the organization so much success.”

The fact that Colliton isn’t far removed from the game himself has already helped him connect with his soon-to-be IceHogs players. The other connection is the desire to win, which is there regardless of age gap.

“I’ve always paid attention to what I thought was important to win. As a competitor, nothing better than winning. As a player it was a big priority for me and when you become a coach it’s the same thing. You do whatever you can to help the team win and help the players learn what it takes to be successful individually,” Colliton said. “If you start there, they’re receptive to your message.”

Blackhawks hire Jeremy Colliton as new Rockford IceHogs coach

Blackhawks hire Jeremy Colliton as new Rockford IceHogs coach

Jeremy Colliton would still love to be playing hockey. As he put it, “it’s the best game in the world to play.” But post-concussion symptoms cut his pro playing career short and led to a coaching opportunity in Sweden.

It was a successful transition. Now, Colliton will bring his coaching ability back to this side of the pond.

Colliton was hired as the Rockford IceHogs’ new head coach, the Blackhawks announced on Thursday morning. The 32-year-old Colliton has spent the past four seasons in Sweden, where he was head coach of the Mora IK. He played pro hockey for eight seasons; his final season came with Mora IK, with whom he retired in 2014 after dealing with post-concussion symptoms. This past season Colliton led Mora IK to a 35-4-13 record (105 points). But in April Colliton announced that he wouldn’t return with Mora IK, the Alberta native saying in a statement at the time that, “I feel it’s time to be closer to home.”

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said in a statement that, “Jeremy’s experience as a player and a coach will allow him to be a great leader and mentor for our young prospects in Rockford. He is coming off a great start to his coaching career with four successful seasons in Sweden and fits very well into our plan of continuing to develop our younger players.”

Colliton will inherit a Rockford team that finished eighth in the AHL Central with a 25-39-9-3 record. The IceHogs missed the playoffs for the first time in the past three seasons. Colliton said getting players ready for the NHL is the biggest task but finding team success also looms large.

“The first priority in Rockford is to help the young players develop so they can contribute and help the Blackhawks win on the NHL level. But that doesn’t prohibit you from having a winning team. That’s also important, teaching these guys how to win and what it takes to be a guy who’s trusted to be on the ice in important situations,” Colliton said. “That’s how they’ll become everyday NHLers and become players the Blackhawks can trust. The focus is on development. Winning is important but that’s the result if we’re doing the right things as far as getting better every day.”

Being in his early 30s, Colliton isn’t too much older than the players he’ll be coaching in Rockford. But he said it’s probably more about his experience in the minors more than the age gap.

“I think what is a positive for me is I’ve been in these guys’ shoes. I know what it’s like to play in the AHL and to try to break through and become an everyday NHLer. Hopefully I can use that experience as a way to help communicate the message for these guys to reach their dreams,” he said. “I’m sure there are some generational things that are easier. But as a coach, the way things are now, it’s important you can connect with these guys, build trust and it’s possible that helps because I’m closer in age.”

Colliton’s playing career was cut short due to concussions but he wanted to remain in hockey in some capacity. He found success as a coach overseas. He hopes to repeat it now in the Blackhawks’ organization.

“I’m a little bit surprised that I’ve been able to move along quickly and get into this opportunity,” Colliton said. “But I have confidence in myself and when I got [the coaching job] in Sweden, I felt like I had experience and knowledge to offer, similar to this, where I was trying to help young players become pros and pros become difference makers.”