|This past season Thomas McCollum registered 25 wins, a 2.50 GAA and .914 save percentage, earning him NHL Central Scouting's top ranking among North American goalies heading into the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.|
"I actually didn't have that many offers from universities at the time," McCollum, an Amherst, N.Y. native, told NHL.com. "I only heard from one, Canisius College."
The NCAA's loss has become the Guelph Storm's gain.
As a rookie last season, McCollum took the OHL by storm. His 2.39 goals-against average was second in the league, and his five shutouts set a Storm single-season record and tied for the OHL lead. He also had 26 wins and a .918 save percentage, and was a finalist for OHL Goalie of the Year honors. This past season, he had 25 wins, a 2.50 GAA and .914 save percentage. He was even better in the postseason, compiling a 1.91 GAA and .937 save percentage in 10 games. That success earned him NHL Central Scouting's top ranking among North American goalies heading into the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
"When I found out about that I was ecstatic," McCollum said of the ranking. "It's a huge honor that somebody thinks of you that highly. It's obviously important to get drafted, but the most important thing is what you do after you get drafted and how hard you work after the fact."
Teammates rave about how easy it is to play in front of McCollum.
"He's a great goalie," said defenseman Drew Doughty, Central Scouting's No. 2-ranked North American skater heading into the Draft. "He gives us full confidence playing in front of him. He's not the guy who makes the huge save and makes it look fancy, he just gets the job done all the time."
The job hasn't been the one he expected -- and that's a good thing.
"When I went up there I figured I would be the backup for most of my first year and then hopefully take over in time for playoffs and then be the starter from there," said McCollum. "I took over the starting job in about a month and a half. I certainly did not expect to go there and play 55 games my first year there, but it's a pleasant surprise, and it's gotten me here. It's been a really great experience and I'm glad I made the decision."
That decision meant moving about two hours northwest, into another country, and away from his friends and family. It also meant surrendering his college eligibility. Education is a priority in the McCollum household, and wherever he was going to play hockey, school had to be part of the equation.
"They checked out the city of Guelph, they talked to (Storm coach/GM) Dave (Barr)," McCollum said of his parents. "They knew I'd be getting an education package, and once they found all that out, they told me it was entirely up to me and what was best for me and my career."
What was best was joining the OHL team. And his education certainly didn't suffer, as McCollum earned this season's Guelph Academic Player of the Year Award and was nominated for the OHL's Bobby Smith Trophy, given to the league's top scholastic performer.
McCollum isn't the only American to take his hockey career north of the border, and he believes more should follow his lead.
"I don't know why more people don't try it," he said. "Each situation is different for every person, but I think it's the way to go. You get to play a pro schedule, and your teachers help you out. If you're in a crunch for time with assignments, I haven't had any problems, the teachers work with you, they schedule around our schedule."
The decision certainly has paid off for McCollum.
"His No. 1 attribute is his net position, it's second to none," said Central Scouting's Al Jensen, a former NHL netminder. "There are rarely any holes and he has a great butterfly. When he is challenging and at the top of his game, he is very tough to beat.
"I really like him. He has the potential to be a franchise goalie."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.