|Kevin Colley is beginning a second career in coaching in the ECHL.
In the early part of this decade, Colley was a dominant player at the ECHL level. He received a couple chances in the American Hockey League, but always found his way back to the Double-A level.
After winning a Kelly Cup championship with the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies in 2003, Colley finally received a full-time job in the AHL. He appeared in 78 games for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the 2003-04 season and never looked back.
Two seasons later, Colley finally made it to the NHL with the New York Islanders. Soon after, though, his journey was cut short.
On Jan. 31, 2006, Colley fractured his fifth cervical vertebrae in a game against the Washington Capitals at Nassau Coliseum. He would never play again.
But his passion for the game wouldn’t allow Colley to stay away. On Aug. 22, the Utah Grizzlies – the Isles’ ECHL affiliate – tabbed Colley as their assistant coach.
One door closes, another opens.
“I had meetings with (Islanders GM) Garth Snow at the beginning of the summer and I told him my heart is in the game of hockey,” Colley said. “I just feel that my personality and what I’ve been through, I have a lot of knowledge. I’ve played for a lot of great coaches. I just feel like it’s a perfect fit for me. It’s something I want to pursue. As soon as they signed an affiliation with Utah, Garth mentioned it to (Utah head coach) Jason Christie and here I am. I’m real excited. Obviously, I’m looking forward to making a nice transition from player to coach. I’m just going to try to learn as much as I can and soak everything in.”
Colley named three coaches from his playing days who he will attempt to emulate behind the bench. But when it comes to inspiration, Colley will look no further than Mike Haviland, who guided Colley and the Boardwalk Bullies to that ECHL title in 2003. Haviland is entering his third season as the head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate, which just moved from Norfolk, Va., to Rockford, Ill.
“I learned a lot from Bill Stewart as a junior player (in Oshawa),” Colley said. “When I went to Atlantic City, Mike Haviland was a big inspiration. And then when I went to Bridgeport, Greg Cronin. Those three guys, they’re all different personalities and they all have different strategies, but I’m close to all of them. I’m taking what I’ve learned from them and I’m just going to mold my own (style). Those guys had faith in me. I can’t thank those three guys enough.”
When Colley received the news that he would be Utah’s assistant coach, Haviland was one of the first people he phoned.
“I talked to him a couple of weeks ago, and he’s excited for me,” Colley said. “He’s a great person. He’s the one of the best coaches I’ve had.”
Haviland believes Colley has what it takes to be successful in the coaching business. And, in a lot of ways, Colley is just beginning the same journey that Haviland started when he became assistant coach of the Trenton Titans in 1999.
“I think it’s great. I saw him right after his surgeries, and he said he didn’t want to get out of hockey,” said Haviland, who has 93 wins in two years at the AHL level. “I was trying to help him as much as I could. I think it’s awesome for him and it’s great for the game. He was a feisty player and he was a real good player. I think he knows what it’s going to take to get from the ECHL to the NHL, because he’s lived it. He knows the game inside and out. I look at it the way I started, and that’s what I told him. You start as an assistant and you learn, and you go from there. It’s a great league to start in.”
And it’s a chance for Utah’s roster to soak in as much information as it can as to what it takes to get to the AHL level and beyond. After all, the New Haven, Conn., native wasn’t even drafted. He made it to Long Island through years of sacrifice and hard work.
“I was here,” Colley said of playing in the ECHL. “When you get down at this level or when you get to this level, where you are mentally is the biggest part. Some guys look for excuses. I know my first year or two, I was looking to blame other people like; ‘Why am I down here?’ But you know what? There’s a time when you’ve got to look in the mirror. You’ve got to dig down deep and if you really want something, you’ve just got to go out and get it.”
Colley did just that, only to have it taken away from him so abruptly. Of course, there was initial shock and times when Colley felt sorry for himself. He’s past that now. He knew he had to hang up the blades. Fortunately, though, he gets to stay in the game he loves.
“I knew right away,” Colley said. “I’m just fortunate to be walking. I’ve got eight screws, two plates and two pins in my neck. It’s not there. There’s just no way. I had to accept it right away. I knew I had to retire. It’s too bad, but I’m over it now. I’m excited to get on with this new chapter in my life.
“I’m over the self pity and feeling sorry for myself and the anger,” he added. “But you feel like you’re on top of the world and in a split second, your whole life changes. You don’t know when your last shift or your last game is going to be. I went through the pain of dealing with that. Now, my heart’s here as a coach. I’ve put all that behind me. I’m looking forward to learning a lot on this side of the fence.”
A Must Read -- Award-winning hockey writer Mike Mastovich, who is entering his 17th season as the beat reporter for the Johnstown Chiefs for The Tribune-Democrat, is nearing completion of his book Slap Shots and Snapshots: 50 Seasons of Pro Hockey in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The book is due out in late October and features a complete history of hockey in the city where the classic flick Slap Shot was filmed. There is an entire section of the book dedicated to the movie.
To learn more, or to pre-order the book, visit: www.tribune-democrat.com/slapshotssnapshots.
Around the ECHL -- The ECHL is introducing a Hall of Fame as part of its 20th anniversary. The first induction class will be announced next month and honored during All-Star Game festivities in January at Stockton, Calif. The league also promoted Tara Crane to Director of Marketing and Licensing. … Popular forward Matt Herneisen was traded by the Dayton Bombers to the Reading Royals on Monday in exchange for defenseman Taylor Christie. Herneisen grew up down the road from Reading in nearby Gilbertsville, Pa. … The Fresno Falcons re-signed RW Brady Leisenring and signed rookie center Matthias Iberer. … The Alaska Aces agreed to terms with center Vladimir Novak, who hopes to return in December after suffering a tibial plateau fracture at Long Beach on March 17. … The Gwinnett Gladiators signed forwards Dirk Southern and Lou Dickenson. … The Phoenix Roadrunners signed defensemen Dave Pszenyczny and Brian Yandle. … Pszenyczny missed the final 26 games of last season and four playoff contests after undergoing emergency surgery to repair multiple severed tendons and arteries in his right forearm. He was cut by an opposing player’s skate on Feb. 9 at Alaska. … The Johnstown Chiefs signed left wing Konstantin Kalmikov. … Japanese goalie Yutaka Fukufuji has signed with the Bakersfield Condors. … The Augusta Lynx signed forward Aaron Slattengren and defenseman John Doherty. … The Charlotte Checkers signed rookie forward Neil Poulsen. … The Cincinnati Cyclones agreed to terms with right wing Jean-Michel Daoust, who scored 32 goals for the squad last season.