Former AHL teammates Calvin de Haan, Jeremy Colliton enjoying reunion with Blackhawks
Calvin de Haan was a rookie and Jeremy Colliton an AHL captain when their careers crossed eight years ago. Now, they’re back together in far different roles.
Jeremy Colliton runs intense practices. Heavy breathing and sweat-dripping brows are common sights in the Blackhawks’ locker room.
But for new Hawks defenseman Calvin de Haan, who played alongside Colliton in the AHL eight years ago, many of the strenuous parts seem oddly familiar.
“It’s funny because there’s a couple drills that we’ve done throughout training camp and practice that I’ve seen a few times before,” de Haan said Thursday, chuckling. “I’ve kind of called him out on that.”
The veteran blueliner finds himself in a situation few NHL players have ever experienced: being coached by a former teammate.
As a rookie in the Islanders organization in 2011-12, de Haan spent all but one game of the season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. And in Bridgeport, Colliton was royalty — he was the team’s captain and, by the end of the year, its all-time leading scorer.
Despite occupying different positions (Colliton was a forward), de Haan’s status as a recent first-round pick meant he and the future Hawks boss still frequently worked and played together. De Haan’s third-ever professional point, in fact, was the primary assist on a Colliton overtime winner.
“I was coming in right out of juniors, not knowing anything about pro hockey, moving in with a couple other 20-year-old kids,” de Haan said last July, shortly after his trade from Carolina to Chicago. “Having Jeremy there was probably like the ... best captain you could have asked for for the young team.”
The two men went separate directions after that season — Colliton moving to Sweden and quickly switching to coaching, de Haan emerging as a full-time NHL defenseman with now 380 career appearances — but de Haan said he was never surprised to see the speed with which Colliton was climbing the ranks.
Since their reunion in Chicago at the start of training camp, he’s seen firsthand how Colliton’s leadership qualities have translated to his current role.
“I’ve enjoyed playing for him so far,” de Haan said. “I could see it when he was a captain in Bridgeport, and he hasn’t changed much — he’s a smart guy and he thinks outside the box, and that’s the new NHL.”
Their preexisting relationship has proved useful, too, despite the eight years apart.
As de Haan worked his way back from offseason shoulder surgery and a groin issue during the preseason, the Hawks’ Europe trip and the first week of the regular season, Colliton and de Haan chatting on the ice after practice was a near-daily occurrence.
De Haan needed to give Colliton daily updates on his health status, and Colliton needed to familiarize de Haan with his hybrid defensive scheme, which de Haan said differs substantially from the man-on-man system he ran with the Hurricanes. Despite one misstep, the regular communication was largely effective.
“When you’ve played with a guy, you have a connection,” Colliton said. “Maybe it’s a bit quicker to be able to get to the point, because he knows me, and I can be quite direct with him. That’s a nice thing.”
De Haan finally made his Hawks debut last weekend and then played well alongside Erik Gustafsson on the third pairing Monday — the duo was on the ice for 12 Hawks scoring chances and only four Oilers scoring chances.
Now fully healthy, De Haan will likely slide into a larger role soon. And when he does, he knows he’ll have a prime resource for any questions he needs answered.
“Jeremy’s very approachable,” he said. “He’s easy to talk to, easy to get along with, and having that relationship before definitely helps for sure.”