As a teenager, Atlanta Thrashers
left wing Colin Stuart
rarely had to travel outside his home in Rochester, Minnesota, to seek advice. As the second oldest of four siblings, Stuart had older brother, Mike, and youngsters Mark and Cristin to converse with when needing a pep talk.
”For the most part, my whole family grew up playing every sport imaginable, but once we reached high school, hockey became our sport of choice,’’ Stuart said.
Mike (drafted by the Nashville Predators in the fifth round, 2000) now plays overseas after spending two seasons with the St. Louis Blues (2003-06), Mark (Boston Bruins’ first-round pick in 2003) is currently playing defense for the Bruins and Cristin is a senior tri-captain at Boston College. Additionally, there’s also dad, Dr. Michael Stuart, the chief medical officer for USA Hockey.
Colin is quick to point out, however, this group of ice aficionados held nothing over his biggest inspiration.
”My mom (Nancy) was the most valuable player of the entire group because she’s the one that carted us around to every rink in the entire country,’’ Stuart told NHL.com. “She’s also the one that burned through two Suburbans. I think our last one had like 350,000 miles on it, in the end. She never batted an eye and always took care of our needs, even if it meant picking up four different kids at four different rinks across Minnesota. It was a big part of her life and, looking back on it now, something I feel she misses. We had many fond memories growing up and we owe it all to her.’’
Stuart took the unconventional route to the NHL, opting to attend Colorado College for four seasons (2000-04) and earn his degree before making a splash in the big leagues. At Colorado, where he amassed 77 points (38 goals, 39 assists) in 156 career games, Stuart had the chance to play with both brothers. He was drafted by the Thrashers in the fifth round (135th overall) of the 2001 Entry Draft and split his first pro season between the Gwinnett Gladiators of the ECHL and Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.
”Earning a degree was very important to me and, on top of that, I still think I had to develop as a hockey player,’’ Stuart said. “I don’t think, by any means, I was ready to come out early. Different guys mature at different levels and ages. I thought I was in a good situation in Colorado because I could continue my development and gain valuable experience. We had a good group of guys there and it was a lot of fun, so it was an easy decision at the time. Looking back, I’m glad I did it.’’
The decision has indeed paid dividends, as Stuart has impressed not only his teammates, but Thrashers General Manager/coach Don Waddell since being called up on Dec. 28. In 17 games, Stuart is among the team leaders at plus-4 while averaging just over 12 minutes and 16 shifts a game.
”Colin skates and forechecks very well and playing on a line with one of the League’s best forecheckers (Marian Hossa), has certainly benefited him,’’ Waddell said. “Colin’s not a natural goal-scorer, but in the role we’ve got him, he’s going to get those opportunities. So long as he uses he speed and finishes his checks, he’ll remain an effective player for us.’’
Stuart is grateful to have Hossa on the opposite flank.
”I’ve learned that so long as I can get Marian the puck and create opportunities, good things will happen,’’ Stuart said. “For the most part, I’ve just focused on playing my position, creating some energy and working hard. I know that if I can forecheck hard and use my speed, I’ll be in good shape.’’
Third-year center Eric Perrin likes what he sees in Stuart.
”He’s brought some energy and passion to the game,’’ Perrin said. “Whenever a kid enters his first NHL season, it’s good for the hockey team and its players. He’s done a great job for us and stepped right in and has contributed offensively. He’s also a reliable guy, defensively, and works hard on the forecheck. If we’re able to have him contribute like that every night, we’ll be in good shape as a whole.’’
Ironically, the 25-year-old made his NHL debut against brother, Mark, in the first of a home-and-home series with the Bruins on Dec. 29 in Atlanta. He notched his first point in a 5-0 Thrashers victory. Two nights later, he registered his first career goal, but Boston, which received a goal from Mark Stuart, prevailed, 5-2.
Colin did reach out to his brother prior to their first NHL encounter to gain some last-minute advice.
He just told me that I belonged in the League and that I could make a valuable contribution. - Colin Stuart on brother Mark of the Boston Bruins
”I saw Mark briefly and I think he was more excited than I was,’’ Stuart said. “He just told me that I belonged in the League and that I could make a valuable contribution. He told me to just play my game and that I had nothing to be nervous about. It’s kind of funny having a younger brother who also happens to be a mentor in that type of situation, but I’m fortunate.’’
According to Stuart, hard work has given him the opportunity of a lifetime in the NHL.
”The biggest thing you must learn, which is also the hardest to remember, is patience,’’ Stuart said. “There are a lot of young players that experience one bump in the road and cash in their chips and say they’ve had enough. You have to be resilient, stay patient and put in the work every day. I’ve taken strides the last few years to revamp my summer training program with my two brothers in Minneapolis and it’s been huge because it’s important you prepare your body for an entire season. The simplest motto I can provide to any young skater would be to work hard and things will fall into place.’’
Contact Mike G. Morreale at email@example.com.