If Brampton Battalion goalie Thomas McCollum is aware of the pressure on him, he isn’t showing it.
Acquired in a trade deadline deal from the Guelph Storm, the expectations bestowed upon McCollum are lofty but not unreasonable: succeed where other Brampton goalies have failed.
"Maybe there’s a little bit more expectations with our team (than in Guelph)," McCollum said, "but at the same time, I know as long as I go out there and do my part, the forwards will go out and put the points on the board for me."
While McCollum remains modest about the task at hand, Brampton head coach and general manager Stan Butler knows all too well the implications a goaltender can play in the post-season. One year ago, Butler’s Battalion threw everything they could at the underdog Barrie Colts only to see goalie Michael Hutchinson steal the show.
The first-round loss to Barrie was a bitter end to a season where so much more was expected from the Battalion. One of the top teams in the regular season, many predicted Brampton would be part of the three-team race in the Eastern Conference, along with Belleville and Oshawa.
If there are two vital lessons to be learned in junior hockey, it’s for players and teams to have short memories and learn from mistakes.
"Our goaltending was good but not great when we made the trade (for McCollum) and we just saw what Mike Hutchinson did to us last year where I thought, quite frankly, we played very well in that playoff series but we couldn’t get pucks by him," Butler said.
One of the few Brampton forwards able to beat Hutchinson in that playoff series was Cody Hodgson. A first round pick of the Vancouver Canucks this past June, Hodgson’s window to win a championship is narrowing as he isn’t expected back in junior hockey next season.
With that in mind, the 18-year-old centre was ecstatic when informed his team had acquired McCollum. What surprises Hodgson most about his team’s new goaltender, however, is his unflappable, quiet confidence.
"Obviously you have to have a lot of confidence to play the game at such a high level, like he does, but he doesn’t show it at all," he said. "He’s a real humble guy."
As quiet and humble as McCollum is, he’s even more so when asked about the world junior tournament. The American starter struggled in the annual showcase of top junior talent, losing a big game against Canada in the final round-robin game. Ironically, it was Hodgson who scored the game-winning goal.
Since McCollum joined the Battalion, the two haven’t spoken much about the game, the goal or the tournament. The experience did, however, give the 19-year-old goaltender a deeper appreciation for one of his new teammates.
"I would much rather be on (Hodgson’s) team than have to play against him night in and night out," McCollum said. "It’s definitely a treat to watch, to see what he can do in games and fortunately he’s on my side, scoring the goals for me now."
Any concerns Brampton might have had about McCollum’s confidence following the tournament, however, proved unfounded.
"The one thing, as a goalie, that he’s very good at is he’s capable of moving on and what I mean by moving on is that the world juniors are in the past and that experience is in the past," Butler said. "He’s just focused on the present and what’s going to happen in the future."
The future McCollum wishes to bring the franchise is one with a championship. Since the team’s inception in 1998, the Battalion have not even reached an Eastern Conference final. As Hodgson indicates, McCollum’s demeanor is a boost to the team’s confidence.
"There doesn’t seem like any shot he can’t stop," he said. "He gives us a chance every game and I know it sounds cliché, but it doesn’t matter how we’re playing, he’s always back there when we’re having an off night.
"He’s already won games for us by himself, pretty much. He’s the reason we’ve been doing so well."
"I’ve always said a good team has got to believe in themselves and a great team has to believe in each other," Butler said. "Hopefully (McCollum) takes you from a good team to an even better team."