Over the last five years Joe Colborne has scored 130 goals. If you did that over a week your arms would get tired.
He has scored all kinds of goals with all kinds of people. He has scored in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, as a collegian at the University of Denver, as a pro with the Providence Bruins and the Toronto Marlies and once as a Maple Leaf.
But he hasn’t scored since Feb. 17 which is to say, in the eyes of a 21-year-old kid, a lifetime.
Colborne’s story is an inviting way into the Marlies first-round playoff series against the Rochester Americans. The teams tangled in Game 1, Thursday at the Ricoh Coliseum with the Marlies riding a pair of goals from Jerry D’Amigo to a 4-3 win. Game 2 of the Series is Saturday afternoon at Ricoh.
Playing between Matt Frattin and Carter Ashton, the six-foot-five Colborne had two assists. He is looking to eradicate the memory of a confounding season in which he earned AHL player of the month status with eight goals and eight assists in his first nine games. In the 54 that followed he only managed to score another eight and add 15 helpers.
Colborne’s offence sagged about the moment the club called up his winger Joey Crabb and despite tantalizing moments there has been more than enough misery to go around.
Still, there is the fact that he is six-foot-five and gifted with excellent vision and a palatable shot. Colborne is a kid who works at it. He paid out of his own pocket this summer to import two different power skating coaches into his training back home in Calgary. Your typical first-rounder (the Bruins chose Colborne 16th overall in 2008 but shipped him to Toronto in the Tomas Kaberle deal) figures the best way to reach the NHL is to worry exclusively about filling someone else’s net. Colborne has devoted a considerable amount of time keeping his own nest clean.
“I’m still learning the defensive and offensive side of the game,” Colborne said. “Look at (Detroit star) Pavel Datsyuk. I’ve been watching him a ton in the playoffs and he’s so strong defensively. I would rather be known as a guy who the coach can throw into any situation and who can be trusted with a one-goal lead in the third period than someone who wants to score a lot of points but is never going to win anything.”
True enough. But he would also want to be the guy summoned in the last minute with his team trailing by a goal.
It has been so long since he scored that Colborne can’t remember his last goal –literally. “We were talking about and honestly, I can’t remember anything about it,” he said.
The usual signs of recovery are there: more chances, the odd goalpost. His natural bent is toward playmaking anyway.
“Playing with good guys like Frats and Ash, if they’re open I am going to be passing to them,” he said. “That’s my game.”
That’s good news for Frattin, the owner of a terrific shot and a player who couldn’t break through with the Leafs until his 17th game. Frattin finished with eight goals in 56 NHL games but carded 14 more over 23 Marlie contests.
“It’s hard to find a big body with the skills set and the hands he brings,” said Frattin. “He sees the ice so well. He’s so good in tight and along the boards. It’s a lot easier for me to try to find that soft spot so he can get me the puck. “
Watching him as a Leaf gives clues to Colborne’s development. He was invisible in his first four Leaf games. Given a game in March he pocketed an assist, finished plus one and looked watertight in his end over nearly 18 minutes of play.
A golfer who devotes himself almost exclusively to his short game is likely to lose a little off the tee. Colborne, a whip-smart kid, understands that.
“It would have been nice if that hadn’t happened,” he said. “I continue to work on my shot before practice. It’s been frustrating but we’re having success as a team and that’s allowed me to stay positive.”
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