The welcome mat Toronto put out for Joe Colborne
Moments after the trade that sent defenseman Tomas Kaberle
to the Boston Bruins
for a package that included Colborne became official Feb. 18, Colborne's cell phone battery was worn out by greetings from various front-office personnel from his new organization.
"Every single person expressed the excitement they had," Colborne said. "It really helped me out personally. I can't say enough for how every single person in this organization has made me feel at home."
There was only one thing Colborne could do -- return the warm introductions in kind.
So in his first game for the Marlies, on Feb. 19, he scored a goal against Grand Rapids. Not bad, but the rookie center was capable of more. So two nights later he scored two against San Antonio.
After that type of introduction, a nametag no longer was needed.
"I just came in and tried to bring my work ethic and hoped the success would follow," said the 21-year-old Colborne. "I was lucky enough that it did."
Luck perhaps, but it more likely was strong precedent.
The 6-foot-5, 190-pound Colborne has become one of the best prospects in the AHL, unflustered by arriving in exchange for a veteran like Kaberle and landing among one of the sport's most passionate fan bases.
"The way I see it is I obviously have something that the management of the Leafs liked," Colborne said. "I put a lot of pressure on myself to be a guy my teammates can count on, my coaches can count on. I want to be the guy who is out there in the last minute (of games). I guess I've been getting myself ready for a long time now."
The most recent preparatory post was at Providence, where Colborne was showing the skills of a player taken No. 16 by Boston in the 2008 Entry Draft. In 55 games there this season he had 12 goals and 14 assists, addressing the question in his own mind of whether he was ready after leaving the University of Denver two seasons early this past summer.
"I was really nervous when I first signed and left school early," said Colborne, who had 2 assists in 6 games with Providence at the end of last season. "I was wondering whether I was getting into something I couldn't keep up with. Now I think I can be a player who can be a big difference for our team."
Colborne's focus took away his peripheral vision, especially for things he never thought would enter his path. He had just left the ice after a morning skate with Providence on Feb. 18 when he noticed a ton of text messages on his phone.
Word was he was about to be traded.
"I had no idea what the rumors were," he said. "Obviously it's a business now. When you sign a contract, you realize businesses make money. Boston saw an opportunity to make their team better."
Colborne arrived in Toronto to see a line of teammates offering to help him unpack his stuff. Coach Dallas Eakins
was less interested in how Colborne would move into his hotel than into the Marlies' lineup.
"It's easy to throw him right in," Eakins said. "He's obviously been well coached in Providence by Rob Murray
. He was excited to get on with his career with a new team. Will the media and the fans put an emphasis on that he was a No. 1 pick and was traded for a good player? Yeah, maybe they will, but in our eyes he's a good player and we'll give him the tools to succeed."
With Colborne's size and skating ability, the essentials already are there. He was an immediate hit playing between Jeff Cowan
and Fabian Brunnstrom
"When this guy is churning his feet, he can really move and he has some good offensive instincts," Eakins said. "These big guys down low, with the way the game is called now, are hard to control. In the old days you stick your stick between their legs or hook them and that'd be it. A lot of guys, they have some size but there's fear of taking the puck to those dirty areas. He doesn't have that fear. This guy is slowly growing into his body. He's only going to get stronger."
Colborne thinks he's already ahead of the expected growth chart on the mental side.
"I was learning on the go, getting used to the pro game," Colborne said. "The biggest thing for me was maintaining the confidence through the ups and downs of the pro season. That's something that you hear veteran players talk about."
Colborne also hears all too often the question of when he might get a shot with the parent club. Showing the poise of a 10-year vet, he's learning to block out that issue.
After all, he's just started feeling his way around Toronto. Who knows how long the glow of a flashy debut will linger, either with the Marlies or eventually the Maple Leafs?
"Hopefully it lasts for about 15 or 16 years," Colborne said. "I plan on continuing to bring the effort I've brought the last few games. I'm just focused on helping the team be successful."