Colin Jacobs grew up in the heart of Dallas Cowboys country, but his dream wasn't to be the next Troy Aikman or Emmitt Smith. Instead, Mike Modano and the Dallas Stars were his team, and at the rate Jacobs is going, he could see Modano in his NHL element in the not-too-distant future.
Jacobs, a native of Coppell, Texas, grew up about 20 minutes north of Irving, where Cowboys Stadium used to stand, and his home rink is in Valley Ranch, where the Cowboys' offices are.
Today, Jacobs' office is in Seattle, where the top 2011 Entry Draft prospect plays for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League. In his second WHL season, Jacobs, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound center, has 6 goals and 16 points in 17 games.
"He's a much stronger man this year so he wins every puck he goes after down low," Thunderbirds GM Russ Farwell told NHL.com. "That's what scouts like when they're watching him. His vision is real good, he plays the point on the power play, he moves the puck around, he's got a real good shot. He's just learning when he can get it through. He's scoring with that consistently.
"You can't teach that competitiveness and stuff and he has that instinctively. There's things he has to learn, but he also has those basic things that come with being a talented athlete and a tough, competitive kid. That's a good combination.
He started earning that spot last season. The Thunderbirds' 19 wins were the third-fewest in the WHL, partly because a young team utilized some new players in key roles -- which worked to Jacobs' benefit.
He finished with 13 goals, 26 points and a minus-33 rating, but Thunderbirds GM Russ Farwell said Jacobs was far more effective than his stats show.
"Colin got to play lots," Farwell told NHL.com. "He got lots of ice time, got to play in some key situations, got some power-play time. It wasn't a wasted year at all. He's getting some results this year, but last year was a good break-in time for him. Wasn't that it didn't go well, he just didn't have the numbers. He had a pretty successful experience because he got so much playing time."
It's something he needed coming from the small pond of Dallas midget hockey to the ocean-sized Western Hockey League.
"The talent level isn't the best in Texas," Jacobs said. "It's getting there, but it's not like it is in the Canadian towns. It was a big jump. Playing a few games as a 15-year-old (in 2008-09) helped, I got my feet wet. I knew some of the things to expect my first year. It was a pretty big change going from playing against 16-year-olds to playing against 20-year-old men trying to make an NHL team."
That dream started when he first started watching hockey. Jacobs was born about six months before the Stars relocated from Minnesota, making him part of the first generation of kids who can say they've been Dallas Stars fans their whole life. Jacobs was 6 when the Stars won the 1999 Stanley Cup, and fondly remembers the way interest in hockey skyrocketed after Brett Hull scored his famous Game 6 third-overtime goal.
"It had a quite a bit of an impact," Jacobs said. "No one knew what the Stanley Cup was and then they brought it down and showed everyone at the local coffee shops and they realized they won the national championship for a sport, so maybe we should try this hockey thing out, it's pretty fun."
Jacobs was one of those people, and he hasn't stopped having fun.
"I was one of those guys to try it out, stuck with it and loved it and now I'm trying to make a future out of it," he said.
A big part of that future was moving to Seattle. Jacobs said it wasn't an easy decision, but he picked the WHL over NCAA and the U.S. National Team Development Program for a pretty simple reason.
"I looked and saw there was quite a few more guys going to the NHL through the Canadian Hockey League," he said. "At the time I thought the Western Hockey League was producing a bit. My goal is to make the National Hockey League and that's what I chose."
The Thunderbirds chose Jacobs in the fourth round of the 2008 WHL Bantam Draft, but Farwell said he didn't have to do too much convincing to get Jacobs to sign on.
"We met him and there was no hesitation," Farwell said. "Colin is really focused and keen on being a player. ... It was very interesting. For a kid from such a non-traditional center, he knew everything about our league. If a kid's into hockey, they can be really knowledgeable thanks to the internet, and he was. He knew what he wanted. We presented the case and why we thought it was a good option. A lot of times when you're dealing with an American player you're working form scratch ... in Colin's case he knew what he wanted."
That hasn't changed, as Jacobs knows he wants to someday play in the NHL. And from what Farwell has seen so far, he believes that will happen.
"He's our best prospect, a real top-end guy," Farwell said. "I think he's going to be a top pick. ... There's a lot of upside to this guy."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org