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McCollum always has been a shot blocker @NHLdotcom

Thomas McCollum has been blocking shots for a long time, but not always as a goaltender. McCollum was a 10-year-old defenseman with a reputation for fearlessly blocking shots. Playing for the Wheatfield Blades, near his hometown of Amherst, N.Y., his team's goalie had a breakdown during a game.

"In the middle of the game, we were playing the best team in the league," McCollum recalled. "We were winning 1-0 and they scored two quick goals to take the lead. The coach called a timeout, and told everybody to relax, and our goalie freaked out and left. We played the rest of the game without a goalie, ended up losing 9-1. He never came back. And since I was a defenseman, I was always diving to block shots anyway. I was sort of the next candidate to hop in the net, and I've stuck with it ever since."

He's done well enough to become an NHL first-round draft pick -- taken No. 30 by the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.

McCollum blossomed into a star with the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League. Last season, he had a 25-17-3-3 record, and his 2.50 goals-against average was the fourth-best in the league. 

There are some that would say McCollum's numbers are artificially low because the Storm have are known as one of the more defensive teams in the OHL. But some of the best goalies have played behind sound defensive systems; just ask Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils. Former Devil and current Guelph coach/GM Dave Barr takes pride in his team's defensive capabilities.

"We're very proud of the fact that people view us as a tough team to play defensively," Barr told Canwest News Service.

McCollum understands that his defense, as well as his butterfly style, size (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) and sound positioning have served him well.

"I usually play a butterfly style," McCollum said. "I use my size and my advantage. Play pretty sound positionally, take away the net to make guys miss. At the same time I can scramble if I need to -- I tend to move pretty well in the net."

NHL Central Scouting's goalie guru, Al Jensen, agrees with McCollum on his excellent positioning and butterfly technique, and adds that he's extremely competitive. 

"Number one attribute is his net position, it's second to none. There are rarely any holes, and he has a great butterfly," Jensen said. "When he is challenging and at the top of his game he is very tough to beat. He has good net coverage and he is very competitive, capable of making the big saves for his team. He handles the puck well and his play has gotten better over the course of the year by leaps and bounds. He is definitely one of those franchise-type of goalies in the future. You can see that his team is very confident in front of him and he can see through screens very well. In saying all of this, I rarely see him out of position."

While McCollum's technique is almost robotic, he enjoys working to become a better goalie and relishes his time on the ice.

"I just really enjoy playing the game," McCollum said. "I have a lot of fun improving myself. And I just really enjoy working hard every day. It's a lot of fun, especially the prospect of getting paid to play a game that I love is just great."

McCollum also is unusually calm for his position and is unlike most goalies, who are unusually quirky, superstitious and temperamental. 

"I've played with some crazy goaltenders, but Tommy is just a low-key guy," Storm teammate Tim Priamo told the Guelph Mercury. "A great guy. I hit him in the facemask with a shot in practice once. Dave Barr gave me (heck) about it, but Tommy never said a word. Nothing rattles him."

It's to McCollum's advantage that nothing rattles him, because it could be a while before he plays in Detroit. Chris Osgood, who backstopped last season's title run, signed a three-year contract extension in January, and veteran Ty Conklin was brought in to back him up. Jimmy Howard will compete with Conklin or start for the club's American Hockey League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins.

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