Olson also on bubble as Cats weigh overager options
or the past two years, defenceman Shane Collins has proven himself the most fit Prince George Cougar player in training camp. Guess that has something to do with the fact Collins grew up as the only son on the family farm near Rosetown, Sask. When he hasn’t been playing hockey or going to school he’s spent a good chunk of his 20 years trying to keep on top of the chores that come with working 4,000 acres of land to help feed the country.
And when it came to sports, Collins was a natural. Combine that athleticism and farmboy work ethic with three years of seasoning in the Western Hockey League and it’s easy to see why he has become such a valuable commodity for the Cougars.
So why is he a man on the bubble, not sure if he’s going to finish his junior career in Prince George? As one of six remaining 20-yearolds on a team that’s allowed to keep just three for the season, barring a trade, Collins won’t likely know for sure until the Oct. 15 overager deadline if he will stick with the team that picked him in the third round of the 2012 WHL bantam draft.
Between now and the deadline, the Cougars will have to move out three of their six overagers to pare their roster to just three 20-year-old players. Todd Harkins has been spending a lot of time on his phone talking to other WHL general managers about potential trades and Collins’s name comes up often in those conversations.
“Everyone wants Shane Collins, a smart kid who plays hard and makes a great first pass – those type of defencemen are hard to find,” said Harkins. “He would be an asset for us or for any team.”
It’s hard for Collins not to think about the numbers game and how that could force the Cougars’ hand.
“It sucks because we’re all good friends and the reality hasn’t set in quite yet until moves are made and guys are leaving,” said Collins, who could be in the lineup tonight when the Cougars finish out the preseason at CN Centre against the Kamloops Blazers.
“It’s nerve-wracking because all the 20-year-olds are playing well. They look really good – the guys who came back improved a lot.”
Collins is a weight room animal and loves to set the example for his teammates during dryland workouts after practice. He knows being fit is an asset when it comes time to trying to keep up to the fastest forwards invading his turf on the ice.
“I’m really good at power movements, the clean-and-jerk Olympic lifts, I seem to have explosive hips and my jumps are pretty good,” said Collins. “I think it helps my stride a lot – I have a very powerful stride, it’s the best part of my skating, I think. It’s tough to really build strength in the year, you have to put in a good summer and try to maintain it through the year so that come February you’re still strong.”
Next Friday, prior to the seasonopening game against Spokane at CN Centre, the Cougars will raise their first WHL banner for winning the B.C. Division regular-season title last year. While that will be a proud moment for Collins, he’s hoping to stick around Prince George this season to try to improve on the club’s disappointing playoff performance, losing out in the first round to Portland.
Collins joined the Cougars fulltime in 2014, the year the current ownership group took over the team, and he’s seen how they have transformed a one-moribund franchise that was struggling to survive into a desirable destination for junior hockey players. Above all, he wants to remain a part of it.
“I’d love to stay here, I want to play for this team this year and just hopefully it works out,” Collins said. “It’s been unreal to see how far this organization has come, I’m super-proud of it. I was drafted when I was 15 and I came up and there were 1,000 fans in the seats and it wasn’t a very exciting place to be going to. But the new ownership has made changes every year and it keeps getting better and better. I see the community getting back behind the team and it just comes from the top and management changing the culture.
— see OLSON, page 8