|(above) Joe Colborne & the Toronto Marlies are playing for the AHL Championship this week|
by Michael Traikos
Joe Colborne is hungry. As you read this, the 22-year-old is probably drinking a protein shake or sitting down in front of a heaping plate of chicken and pasta. Whatever it is, it is still not enough. He wants to eat more. He needs to eat more.
Not to necessarily pack pounds onto his slender frame, but more so to temporarily prevent the grains of sand from passing through the hourglass that acts as his hearty metabolism.
“If I only ate three meals a day, I’d probably lose five pounds or more,” said the 6-foot-5 Colborne, who grew a half-inch in the last few months and whose weight can fluctuate from 208 to 218 pounds on a given day.
“It just never ends. I’ll go out for food and everyone else is ready to leave and I’m ready to eat a whole other meal. But I guess that’s a good thing too when I get older. I’ll be laughing at the other guys who will be getting fat.”
Right now, Colborne’s weight is like everything else about the Maple Leafs prospect: a work in progress. A first-round draft pick of the Boston Bruins in 2008, the Calgary native was sent to Toronto as part of a trade for Tomas Kaberle near the end of 2010-11. And while Kaberle helped the Bruins win a Stanley Cup, the Leafs are still waiting on what they eventually hope develops into a top-six forward.
Patience, however, has been the key.
Colborne needs to get bigger, stronger, faster and become more consistent offensively before he challenges for a job with the Leafs next season. That being said, he has shown flashes of potential.
He started this past season with eight goals and eight assists in his first nine games, and he was named the American Hockey League’s player of the month in October. The following month, he was called up to the Leafs and scored his first NHL goal and recorded three assists in nine games.
But like his weight, the production was difficult to keep up.
After being sent back to the minors at the end of November, Colborne struggled to score and finished the season with just eight goals and 15 assists in his final 56 games. During one miserable stretch at the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs, he went 30 games without a goal. He has two goals and five assists in 13 playoff games heading into Game 3 of the Calder Cup final on Thursday.
These would not appear to be the stats of someone who is ready to make a full-time jump to the NHL. Colborne knows it. But at the same time, he is not discouraged by his development.
“I was hot, for sure,” he said of that incredible first month. “I think there have been flashes of it, but it hasn’t been as consistent as I would like to be … but it’s not over yet. It’s sort of been a trying year at times, but it’s also been a huge learning experience for me.”
There are several reasons why Colborne suddenly went from looking like the Leafs’ top prospect to an average Joe — he lost a linemate, he lacerated his finger, he grew a half inch — but at the end of the day, it might boil down to managing expectations.
“Early in the season, he just got off to an unbelievable start,” said head coach Dallas Eakins, who has Colborne centering a line with Carter Ashton and Greg Scott. “To keep that pace up, now that’s the problem with a player. If you’re going to do a test on a mile run, don’t go run the mile in five minutes the first time, because they’re going to expect you to do that every time.
“So Joe got off to a great start. I think he kind of came back to reality mid-season, more of how we thought he would play. But when you get off to a great start as a young man and it’s not going for you, you start losing your confidence. He started going outside his game, trying things.”
Eakins wants Colborne to get back to using his big frame to his advantage and driving the net and hanging onto the puck more down low. But he has no issues with his effort or attitude, especially considering Colborne has been playing through more than the usual bumps and bruises that come from a long playoff run.
“There is some stuff,” he said. “I’m sure it will come out at the end of the year.”
“He’s a really motivated kid,” Eakins said. “He’s not someone who’s leaving every day going, ‘Had a bad day and it’s not a big deal.’ He’s thinking about it. His play has weighed on him at points, but he’s always looking for — even when he’s playing great — a way to get better.”
For now, the way to do that is to keep eating.