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Colborne Working On His Craft

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

Marlies centreman Joe Colborne points to a strip of skin, as bare as an airport runway, between his nose and lip.

“This is probably about 10 days,” he says. “I’m not lying. I wish I was.”

He is talking about his moustache, or at least the area that should one day house his moustache. Colborne is participating in the Movember fund raising, not that anyone would really notice. He is supposed to start from scratch November 1 but that plan isn’t even remotely feasible.

And so Colborne is trying to gain an edge.  “If you’re not cheating,” Marlies goalie Ben Scrivens likes to say, “you’re not trying.”

When he is 60, Colborne will likely delight in being told he looks ten years younger than his actual age.  Problem is, he’s hearing the same thing now at 21.

Obtained in the deal that sent Tomas Kaberle to Boston, the former first rounder (16th overall in 2008) looks young but approaches his work with an old-school resolve. Anxious to improve his skating this summer, he rented ice time in his hometown of Calgary and brought in four of the best power skating coaches in Canada to sharpen his stride. 

Better technique is essential because of his body type. He is naturally reedy so the huge amounts of muscle mass needed to power his big body hasn’t yet fully arrived, despite diligent weight training.

“This is a boy just turning into a man and with it comes strength,” said Marlies coach Dallas Eakins. “He’s a late bloomer coming into his body and I already see him stronger than he was last year. He’s only going to get better.”

Colborne carded 16 points in 20 Marlie games last season. Through October 22nd he has scored four goals added six assists in five games this season to lead the Marlies and the American Hockey League.

He did not impress in the Leafs’ exhibition games and is probably best remembered for a horrible giveaway that resulted in a goal by the Flyers’ Sean Couturier. writer Mike Ulmer spoke to Colborne about what it takes to be a better pro and how he plans to do it with size 11.5 feet.

Mike Ulmer: Tell me about how you plan to improve your skating?
Joe Colborne:  I spent a lot of time in the summer working with power skating coaches. I’m never going to have the quickest feet like a Darryl Boyce. Instead, I’ve worked on becoming smoother and lengthening my stride. I think that’s helped me increase my top end.

Mike Ulmer:
So how much work did you do?
Joe Colborne I did my regular training but every other week we would have a different coach come out and work with us for two hours a day.  I put it on. There were just one or two other players who sometimes joined us but the idea was to get as much individual attention as possible.

Mike Ulmer: That must have made for a tough summer?
Joe Colborne: It’s fun when you are out there but it’s tough getting up in the morning and thinking, ‘Oh man, I’ve got to do this again.’ Your body is hurting but the coaches are great and you learn so much that it’s worth it.

Mike Ulmer: You paid for this, the ice and the lessons,  out of your own pocket?
Joe Colborne: Yes.

Mike Ulmer:
How much did that cost you?
Joe Colborne: It’s significant, probably a couple of thousand dollars but the way you look at it is you have to invest in your craft. It’s no different than a tech guy going out and buying a top computer for his home. If doing this extra work helps me make millions of dollars in the NHL, it’s a pretty good investment.

Mike Ulmer:  What are the challenges for a bigger man who wants to improve his skating?
Joe Colborne: The biggest thing is starting. Because you have so much more mass you have to get a lot more moving than a little guy. It’s the same thing with stops and starts and turns. There’s so much more force.

Mike Ulmer: So it’s technique?
Joe Colborne: Not just technique.  It’s getting the leg strength to stay down in  my crouch. After that it comes down to trusting your edges and realizing ‘I can go into this corner.’ You have to push your comfort zone. If you are going full speed and you are in the corner and you have to turn on a dime, you have to get used to your body and making those turns that you’re not comfortable with.

Mike Ulmer: That means you fall.
Joe Colborne: A lot but it’s also about using new skills to make wiser use of your energy.

Mike Ulmer: How’s that?
Joe Colborne: They would time us from the goal line to the blue line. We would work all week and then they would time us again. It’s amazing how you would go from ten strides to nine strides and all of a sudden eight strides. My times were getting better but I was taking two fewer strides. That means I’m using less energy and later in the shift, if I have to make one of those difficult turns, I have the energy to do it. It’s about managing your skating and your energy because you never know when you have to stop and start on a dime or turn around on a forecheck.

Mike Ulmer:  When Michael Jordan decided he wanted a better jump shot, he became a shooting nerd. He talked about it all the time. He studied and practiced relentlessly…
Joe Colborne: Yeah, I’m becoming a skating nerd. There are guys I watch a lot, big guys like Chris Pronger in Philadelphia and (Anaheim centreman) Ryan Getzlaf.  Another thing I’ve become a nerd about is faceoffs. I can be watching a game and talking to buddies and then a faceoff comes on.  If it’s a guy like Joe Thornton or David Steckel, I have to watch. Steckel is like a machine.  I’d love to pick his brain and talk about faceoffs. Whatever he is doing, I want to do.

Mike Ulmer: You almost feel sorry for the guy he’s taking the draw against.
Joe Colborne:  It’s so depressing as a centreman going against a guy like that.  It’s heartbreaking.  You’re thinking to yourself, ‘He’s going to kick my ass and I’m going to have to go chase the puck.'

Mike Ulmer: Talk about this year’s Leafs camp.
Joe Colborne: I felt much better than I did the previous year in the Bruins camp but I made a few bad mental mistakes. I had the one big  turnover against Philly. That’s one everyone notices right away. I don’t think I’ve ever made a turnover that bad in my life but it’s just one of those things. I saw Clarke MacArthur breaking out, I rolled my wrists over and the puck went right on the other guys’ tape.

Mike Ulmer: So how are you making that work for you?
Joe Colborne: When I came down here, I focused on minimizing mistakes and really bearing down on every little puck. Earlier I might have thought that wasn’t a big deal but you can’t afford to have those mistakes.

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