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Goalie McCollum grows up in Guelph

by Aaron Bell

Guelph Storm goaltender Thomas McCollum, the
top rated OHL netminder at the start of the year, is riding a five-game winning streak with three shutouts
It’s a safe bet that Thomas McCollum has enjoyed life as an adult so far.

After failing to pick up a win in more than a month, the Guelph Storm goaltender has suddenly become the hottest netminder in the Canadian Hockey League. He has won five games in a row, including three shutouts since blowing out the candles to celebrate his 18th birthday on December 7.

McCollum had a tough start to what may be one of the most important seasons in his young career. He was the top rated OHL goalie in the Central Scouting preliminary rankings released in November, but after giving up four goals on 16 shots and being yanked from his first start of the season, McCollum won just once in his first six games. He grabbed four wins in a five game stretch before the Storm went on their 10 game winless stretch that started in early November.

Despite the lack of results, McCollum knew that his team was better than they were showing and that he was capable of winning games.

“We’ve just really focused on bearing down and playing our systems well,” said McCollum, who finished second among OHL goalies with a 2.39 goals against average in 55 games as a rookie last year. “We know that when we play our systems right, there aren’t too many teams in the league that can compete with us.”

McCollum made 22 saves to preserve a 3-1 win on his birthday a week and a half ago that finally snapped their long skid.

“This win is a big confidence booster for the boys,” McCollum said right after the game. “We’ve been working hard even though we’ve been losing. We had some bounces go against us but this is just a really good confidence booster and makes us feel good about coming to the rink every day.”

The Sanborn, New York native has been named the CHL’s goaltender of the week twice in a row and has allowed just two goals during Guelph’s five-game winning streak.

On Friday, McCollum stopped all 29 shots he faced to back the Storm to a 1-0 overtime win over the Windsor Spitfires on Friday and then made 26 saves for his second straight shutout in Guelph’s 3-0 win over the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds on Sunday. It was his third shutout in four games heading into the Christmas break.

He improved his season record to 10-9-2-2 with a 2.55 goals against average, a .912 save percentage and three shutouts in 24 games.

McCollum is enjoying the recent turnaround for his team and himself.

“It gets to the point now I almost know it's going to go well, I just have that feeling,” McCollum told the Guelph Mercury on Saturday. “I had a good warm-up and I just felt really, really comfortable - like nothing could go wrong.”

It’s no surprise that McCollum came into the season so highly regarded by NHL scouts. As a rookie last season, he racked up 26 wins and was tied for the league lead with five shutouts, including a 34-save whitewash in his first career game. He was named to the OHL’s third all-star team playing behind a defence group that included Philadelphia Flyers’ prospect Ryan Parent and 2008 top prospect Drew Doughty.

“I think it was just a lot of hard work and I had a great corps of defencemen playing in front of me,” said McCollum, who played Jr. B for the Wheatfield Blades in Buffalo two years ago. “It’s so much quicker than what I was used to playing. It took a while to get used to.”

But McCollum had a rough end to his sensational rookie season.

He won five of six games heading into March but then lost five of the final seven games of the regular season and was in the Guelph net for their four game sweep out of the first round of the playoffs to the Plymouth Whalers.

“I still haven’t put that behind me,” McCollum admitted in the summer. “I use it for motivation. But in my mind, that's definitely where you prove what you're made of. Guys that battle through the rough times, (they're) the guys that are known for being great.”

McCollum has obviously been a big part of Guelph’s recent resurgence. He also says that a lot of the success that his team has enjoyed comes from having a tight-knit group in the dressing room. It has helped them get through some tough stretches and makes their recent winning streak that much sweeter.

“We’re all really good friends,” McCollum said. “This is the best team I’ve ever been on as far as guys getting along with each other. That really keeps it fun coming to the rink every day.”

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