Colliton an Important Hire for Blackhawks, IceHogs

Ted Dent was the face of Rockford IceHogs hockey. Hired as an assistant coach for the IceHogs’ inaugural season in the American Hockey League (2007-08), he served in that capacity for five years before being promoted to head coach, a role he would fulfill for six seasons. Dent’s tenure with Rockford came to an end this April, when Chicago Blackhawks’ SVP and general manager Stan Bowman relieved the long-time coach of his duties.

Stan Bowman, NHL, Chicago Blackhawks, Cap Overage
(Jerry Lai/USA TODAY Sports)

Now, we know his replacement. Bowman announced the hiring of Jeremy Colliton on Thursday. The hire comes at an important time for the Blackhawks organization. As I recently discussed, Chicago’s group of prospective NHL players has been depleted in recent years as the front office moved future assets for veteran players geared at aiding the club’s Stanley Cup runs. That, in addition to the necessity of graduating young players to the NHL due to salary cap casualties, has left the organization with fewer NHL-caliber prospects. With Chicago’s core players aging, now is the time for Bowman and his staff to begin reloading with young talent. Development of that talent, above all else, will be Colliton’s priority.

Ted Dent’s Departure

After taking the Rockford IceHogs to the Calder Cup playoffs in back-to-back seasons, Dent’s 2016-17 team had a poor showing. Their 25-39-12 record (62 points) was dead last in the eight-team Central Division and fourth-worst in the 30-team league. Rockford’s performance was likely a reflection of roster transactions more than Dent’s coaching ability. During the 2015-16 season, when the IceHogs advanced to the 2nd round of the playoffs, the team received significant contributions from Ryan Hartman, Tanner Kero, Richard Panik and Vinnie Hinostroza, all of whom provided little to the IceHogs during 2016-17 given their graduation to the Blackhawks’ roster. The IceHogs lost Bryan Bickell via trade last offseason. Additionally, in-season trades resulted in the loss of three of the team’s top-five forwards: Spencer Abbott, Sam Carrick and Mark McNeil.

While the graduation of talent is the top organizational goal for Rockford, the aforementioned trades seemed to strike a different chord with Dent. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, Dent made a couple of decisions that likely resulted in the end of his time as Rockford’s bench boss, including a later-deleted social media post and internal text messages to players regarding the transactions. While the firing appeared appropriate in terms of aligning the IceHogs’ leadership with the Blackhawks’ brass at 1901 West Madison Street, Dent’s contributions to the organization should certainly be appreciated. His player development aided in all three of Chicago’s modern-day Stanley Cup championships.

Jeremy Colliton Era Begins

Regardless of profession, the decision to terminate an employee is often only as good as the replacement that is hired. This decision will likely be no different. For the large majority of the hockey community, Bowman’s decision to go in a different direction with Rockford’s head coach will only be viewed positively if Jeremy Colliton achieves success. Success, in this case, will be defined by the development of NHL talent (on and off the ice), the ability to establish a consistent culture of winning and being an ambassador for the Rockford community and Blackhawks organization. Perhaps most important for the teams Colliton will coach is that he understands graduating talent from the AHL and winning are not mutually-exclusive:

“I embrace the idea that the first priority in Rockford is to help the young players develop so they can contribute and help the Blackhawks win … and hopefully win Stanley Cups,” said Colliton, who was hired Thursday to replace Ted Dent as coach of the IceHogs, the Hawks’ AHL affiliate. “That’s the No. 1 job, as it should be [for] the head coach in Rockford.

“But that doesn’t prohibit you from having a winning team. I also think that’s important — teaching these guys how to win and what it takes to be a guy that [is] trusted to be on the ice in important situations.” – Colliton via the Chicago Sun-Times

Youngest Head Coach in AHL

So, who is Jeremy Colliton?

Jeremy Colliton
Jeremy Colliton of the New York Islanders skates against the New Jersey Devils on January 17, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum (Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

For starters, at 32 years of age Colliton will easily be the youngest head coach in the AHL, supplanting Sheldon Keefe, 36, of the Toronto Marlies (Maple Leafs’ affiliate). Colliton’s age alone creates some intrigue to the hire. While I can’t dispute that Colliton may have been the most qualified candidate regardless of age, the hire makes me wonder if Bowman was looking for a young, sharp hockey mind for the front office to mold in the Blackhawks’ way. I also can’t help but wonder if Colliton will be an individual that could grow with the organization and eventually be groomed for the Blackhawks’ coaching staff. Time, and his performance, will certainly tell.

Playing Experience

Colliton, a center, was drafted by the New York Islanders in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft’s 2nd round (58th overall), seven picks after current Blackhawks’ goaltender Corey Crawford. After playing four seasons (2001-02 through 2004-05) with the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders, Colliton spent six of the next seven years between the AHL and NHL playing 326 regular season games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and another 57 with the New York Islanders. The seventh year was spent in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL).

Jeremy Colliton of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers vs. the Providence Bruins on March 11, 2011 (Sarah Connors/Wikimedia Commons)

Given the opportunities Colliton had to play in a variety of hockey leagues (seven total including brief stints in the AJHL, ChHL and Hockey Allsvenskan), I’m optimistic one of his strengths as Rockford’s head coach should be an ability to relate to players that span a variety of skill sets, backgrounds and development potential.

Coaching Career

After suffering a concussion in Mora IK’s (of the Hockey Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second-highest hockey league after the SHL) third game of the 2013-14 season, Colliton would decide to end his playing days and sign on with the club as their interim head coach. The interim tag was removed for the 2014-15 season, and Colliton coached Mora IK for three more seasons before electing to accept the head coaching role with Rockford. In his head coaching tenure with Mora IK, he posted a 98-57-18 record. His most successful season was 2016-17, in which his team posted a league-best 35-13-4 record and 105 points. Following the regular season, Mora IK would go on to defeat Leksands IF in six games, qualifying Mora IK for 2017-18 SHL play, the club’s first opportunity to do so since the 2007-08 season.

“They have the most promising coach I’ve seen for many, many years.” – Mora IK president on IceHogs’ Jeremy Colliton

With his success in Sweden behind him, Colliton now faces a new challenge: to bring his experience, instruction and communication to the Blackhawks’ organization. If his short track record is any predictor, it won’t be long before a winning culture, driven by the core goal of talent development, returns to Rockford.