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New coach Jeremy Colliton’s message to Blackhawks: ‘Come ready to learn, listen’

Jeremy Colliton’s performance at the United Center can only get better.

His one and only time there, in 2011, he was in his final cup-of-coffee stint with the Islanders. A center who appeared in all of 57 NHL games, Colliton skated 22 mostly miserable shifts in a 5-0 Blackhawks victory.

“I did score a goal, but they called it off,” the Hawks’ new coach recalled. “Goalie interference.”

Thursday night at the UC against the Hurricanes, the challenge of Colliton’s hockey life will begin in earnest.

Jeremy Colliton, with Hawks GM Stan Bowman to his right, at Tuesday's introductory press conference. (AP/Kamil Krzaczynski)

Until a year and a half ago, he’d never even held a coaching job in North America. At 33, he’s suddenly the youngest coach in the NHL. And all he’s doing is replacing a sure-fire Hall of Famer in Joel Quenneville, who was fired 15 games into his 11th season with the Hawks despite having guided them to the NHL mountaintop in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

“I have a huge amount of respect for Joel,” said Colliton, who coached the Hawks’ affiliate in Rockford to the AHL conference finals last season and had the IceHogs off to a strong start in Year 2. “Those are huge shoes to fill. I won’t try to fill them. I’ve got to be myself.”

Who is Colliton? A patient and excellent communicator, the Hawks say. A high-energy guy. A proponent of hockey played at a fast pace, with maximum pressure on the puck, and a staunch believer in hockey analytics.

Altogether, he’s no Quenneville.

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“Joel and Jeremy are different, for sure,” general manager Stan Bowman said. “Their styles are not the same. I don’t think there’s only one style you can win with, but that [communication] has been what I’ve been impressed with relative to the way Jeremy has coached.”

After his first team practice Tuesday at MB Ice Arena, Colliton — whose third child was born last Thursday — let his players know that he realized some of them were hurt and/or stunned by Quenneville’s dismissal. He was considerate and respectful, with a dash of warning.

“Come ready to learn; come ready to listen tomorrow,” he told them. “Bring your minds.”

Brent Seabrook, the all-time leader in games played by a Blackhawks defenseman, happens to have a history with Colliton that goes back to their pre-teen playing days in Western Canada. But Seabrook also is especially fond of Quenneville.

“Today was a tough day,” Seabrook said. “Tomorrow’s going to be a little different.”

Colliton isn’t the youngest coach the Blackhawks have had. Paul Thompson was 32 when he transitioned from player to coach in 1939. Frank Eddols (in 1954) and Keith Magnuson (in 1980) each was 33 when he took the job. But none of those three replaced a Quenneville.

“Ultimately, it’s about winning,” Colliton said. “And I have to earn their trust by them believing that I can help them win, that I can help them be better individually, that we as a staff can put together a plan so they can have success.

“So if I can do that, there’s no problem. If doesn’t matter how old I am.”