College route proved correct for Colborne

CALGARY – Joe Colborne has one regret from his time with the Camrose Kodiaks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Recounting the moment makes him cringe.

With only seconds remaining in the biggest game of his life, Colborne was stationed in the high slot. The puck arrived, Colborne zipped it high, but Humboldt Broncos goalie Taylor Nelson made a sensational save with one second remaining.

“I was sure it was in,” Colborne says. “I got robbed by the goalie. Unbelievable glove save.”

Colborne and the Kodiaks had to swallow a 1-0 defeat to the Broncos in the championship game of the 2008 RBC Cup, the national junior A championship tournament.

“Toughest loss I’ve ever had,” Colborne says more than two years after the fact. “That hurt real bad. Still does.”

Other than that, Colborne has no regrets about the path he’s chosen for his hockey career.

Colborne’s decision to jump from junior A to the U.S. college ranks in an effort to reach the National Hockey League is working out perfectly. After starring for the Kodiaks, he earned a full-ride scholarship to the University of Denver. A few months before he started his freshman season in Denver, Colborne was a first-round pick, 16th overall, of the Boston Bruins in the 2008 NHL entry draft.

After two seasons with the Pioneers, during which he collected 72 points in 79 games while carrying a 3.80 grade-point average, Colborne made his pro debut last spring with Providence of the American Hockey League, earning an assist on his second shift.

This fall, Colborne will take a real run at cracking the Bruins’ lineup.

“I look at Camrose as the best decision I made in hockey,” Colborne, 20, says. “I wouldn’t change much at all.”

In fact, so positive was his hockey experience that he loves to tell youngsters about it.

“A lot of kids get discouraged too early,” Colborne says. “Definitely, if you want to get to the NHL – and you put the time in – there’s no reason you can’t do it. It might mean that you go to a place like Camrose. You go where you’re going to get good coaching. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not going to make it.”

The Calgary native discovered only one drawback from taking the U.S. college route: Being out of the Hockey Canada loop. In Colborne’s case, the was no berth on the Canadian world junior championship team.

“It just makes sense that you’re going to get more exposure playing in Canada,” Colborne says.

It turns out that the Western Hockey League unwittingly nudged Colborne to the AJHL. Despite being a contributing member of the The Edge School’s bantam squad – where his teammates included Tyler Myers, last season’s rookie of the year in the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres, and Brandon Kozun, a Los Angeles Kings prospect – Colborne was not selected in the WHL draft.

“It stung,” says Colborne, who grew up in Springbank, Alta. “It’s like, ‘OK, what’s wrong with me?’ “

At about that time, Dan Bertram, family friend and former Kodiaks star, started filling Colborne’s head with rave reviews about Camrose and the team’s coach, Boris Rybalka. A year later, Colborne was skating with the Kodiaks.

As a rookie in 2006-07, the gangly centre produced 48 points in 53 games.

Colborne and his parents, Paul and Janine, then were faced with a decision: Would Colborne join the WHL ranks – the Tri-City Americans had assured Colborne of a spot – and scotch his NCAA eligibility, or would he stay one more season in Camrose, then move on to college?

There were more than a few family meetings in the Colborne household.

Colborne’s father was leaning toward junior, but his mother wanted him to go to school. The decision, ultimately, was the Colborne’s.

“Both parents said, ‘Look, as much as we have these (preferences), you’re the person who’s going to go do it, Colborne says. “Just know that whichever way you go, we’ll be behind you 100 per cent.”

Once the family focused on what Colborne had – not what he could have – the decision became easy.

“We realized that we’d found this great coach, this great situation, so why are we rushing to leave?” Colborne says. “The (WHL) is a great option. For a lot of guys, it’s worked out, obviously. But I had such a great year with Boris and the Kodiaks that I said, ‘You know what? I think I’ll improve more just staying there. And, by doing that, this really opens the door for schools.’ “

The decision proved to be the correct one.

He returned to Camrose, dominating the AJHL (90 points in 55 games), was drafted by the Bruins then breezed into the University of Denver, where he was a point-per-game presence.

Next on his checklist? Full-time NHL employment.

Colborne continues to do everything right, including taking a leading role at the team’s summer camp. Not only did he blog daily for, he was featured on the Bruins’ website under the headline, “Colborne a captain someday? Leadership seems to come naturally for Joe.”

So he knows it’s close.

“Obviously, Boston needs scoring,” says Colborne, six-foot-five and 216 pounds. “They’ve told me, ‘We’re going to be making some changes. There’s going to be battles, there’s going to be spots open.’

“I’m going there planning to make the team.”

Calgary Herald