At 6’4/210 lbs, it’s difficult to miss freshman defenseman Corbin McPherson. But the Folsom, CA native has provided far more than just a big body to the Colgate blueline. He’s brought mobility, toughness and tremendous puck skills as well. It’s a combination that has enhanced that Raiders defensive corps and one that will be further relied upon moving forward.
McPherson began his hockey career playing for various California teams, including the San Jose Junior Sharks before moving on to the BCHL to play with Cowichan Valley in 2006-07.
It was during his time with Cowichan Valley that he caught the attention of then-Colgate assistant coach Andrew Dickson, who invited the young rearguard to visit the university.
“Just one day out of the blue, I got a phone call from Andy Dickson about the Colgate hockey program,” McPherson said. “He told me that they wanted to watch me and then I visited about a month later during Thanksgiving. I fell in love with the campus and thought that they would give me a great opportunity to play and develop. It seemed like a good fit for me and my family.”
While McPherson was relatively unknown to a number of Division I schools, two other programs that did recruit him were Colorado College and Princeton.
He also flew under the radar of many in the scouting community as well, including Central Scouting, who didn’t even rank him for the 2007 draft.
But one NHL team whose radar McPherson was very much on was the New Jersey Devils, who selected him 87th overall (third round) that year. McPherson glowingly recalls that very special day.
“It was unbelievable. I had been flown out to Columbus for testing two days before the draft," McPherson said. "I was actually in Indiana for the Indiana Ice’s main camp when the draft was going on. So I get a call from Lou Lamoriello, Glenn Dirk and all of the scouts from the New Jersey Devils, whom I had met while I was in Columbus, and they told me. I was just overwhelmed with excitement.”
The way the testing had transpired indicated that New Jersey might select him.
“When the Devils flew me out for testing, because it wasn’t Central Scouting’s testing, it was just their testing, I had an inclination that they might draft me,” he said.
McPherson attended the Devils prospects camp this past summer and remembers the valuable experience he gained from it.
“It was a great experience," he said. "It was a lot of hard work and I thought it was awesome. It’s what the Devils program is all about. There was a multitude of things that I got out of it with the experience of the coaches that they have there like Jacques Laperriere Lou Lamoriello and Brent Sutter. There were a bunch of great guys who know exactly what they’re talking about. They also had leaders on the ice that were telling me what I needed to work on to just get better.”
McPherson holds the distinction of the being the highest drafted player to don the Colgate maroon and gray. While the Devils have kept tabs on McPherson’s progress, assistant head coach Brad Dexter explains that the organization has also been very good about allowing McPherson to simply develop, learn and be a student-athlete.
“We do have contact with the Devils," Dexter said. "We got a real nice development report on Corbin from them over the summer. In terms of them telling us what they’d like us to do with Corbin, they’re not interfering in any sense whatsoever with what we’re doing here. They have faith and trust in what we’re doing and it’s nice to not have someone hanging over your shoulder telling you how you should be coaching a player. Obviously, we’re trying to help Corbin fit into how we’re playing here at Colgate right now, but the Devils have been absolutely wonderful in their approach. They keep tabs for sure, but they also have a complete understanding of the whole process as well.”
One of McPherson’s best attributes is his excellent skating ability, especially for a big man. He combines power and fluidity with good speed, which allows him to effectively transition and jump into plays.
Another characteristic that stands out about McPherson is his physical game. Though he is still filling out his enormous frame, McPherson doesn’t lack strength by any means. He can lay bone-crushing checks without losing sight of what is happening elsewhere on the ice. It’s a balance that also seems to come naturally to the young defender as well.
“I don’t think it’s been difficult for me because I take care of the puck first and the body is just something that’s there that you can take away to get to the puck. I just think that it’s something that you can never do too much of and it’s something that I want to do. It’s important to be physical on the ice because of my size. I need to be a presence on the ice.”
For McPherson, getting stronger is just one part of his developmental process. Flexibility is another part and one he focuses quite a lot on in his workout regimen.
“We lift twice a week and I lift in the morning," he said. "We also do something called a dynamic warm up that works on our flexibility and stretching is an important part of that. I think flexibility is key to increasing speed and strength. For me, especially being a tall guy, being flexible has helped my lower back and other areas that are susceptible to getting strained or injured. So I feel that I need to continue to work on my flexibility.”
Since his arrival in Hamilton, NY this fall, McPherson has blossomed into one of the ECAC’s most promising and dominant young defensemen. He has also become an important part of the Raiders defensive corps, particularly with the unexpected off-season loss of sophomore Kevin McNamara. To date, McPherson has posted two assists playing in all 14 games. He posted his first collegiate point on Nov. 8 versus Princeton. McPherson has also posted 22 penalty minutes, which are tied for second on the team.
Like every other player new to the collegiate ranks, McPherson has had to go through his own adjustment period. Though it has been a challenge, particularly coming from the junior “A” ranks, he has taken it all in stride.
“I’d say that there was more offense in Junior “A” where I played and the ECAC is a very defensive league, so I’m kind of adjusting to playing my position a bit more, but it’s been really helpful in my development. I’d say that staying consistent every shift has been the greatest test for me.”
One challenge that McPherson contended with early on at Colgate was with his confidence in his own abilities. It is something that he has continually worked on that has already begun to pay off significantly for his team.
“One of the things that the coaching staff has gotten me to focus on is just improving my overall game and my individual skills. I wanted to focus more on my puck protection, so they’ve been helping me with that. I just need to concentrate on being confident and playing to my abilities.”
“Watching him weekend to weekend, I just see a player that’s getting more assertive,” Dexter added. “I think poise is one of his greatest qualities. For me, one of the key attributes that a defenseman could have is poise, and I think Corbin has a load of it. In the last month or so, he’s really started to assert himself physically and take charge. He looks more comfortable every night and he’s earned a lot of new opportunities. I think those opportunities have allowed Corbin to grow quickly for us.”
He sees himself as a mobile, puck-moving defenseman, and lists Anaheim Ducks defenseman Chris Pronger as his favorite NHL player and the one that he patterns his own game after.
“He’s just an all-around solid defenseman that has an offensive upside. He’s got all that you want in a defenseman. I’ve also been told by various people that I look like him too (laughs).”
While he has only played nearly half a season of college hockey thus far, McPherson has already played against a number of the league’s top players. So who has been the best collegiate player he has faced?
“I would say Tyler Bozak from Denver because he’s really quick and good with his hands.”
As much as McPherson has accomplished in the short time that he has been at Colgate University, the best is certainly yet to come. But along with that is added responsibility, which has become heightened with the recent loss of yet another key defenseman in Wade Poplawski. McPherson has seen his role quickly expand to include playing time on both the Raiders power play and penalty killing units, while averaging anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes of ice time per game.
Fans of the Raiders and the Devils have a lot to forward to in Corbin McPherson because of what he has already shown and will be able to show as his career progresses. He has size and strength to go along with superb puck skills, good hockey sense, and offensive instincts. But there is one other thing that McPherson wants people to know about him as well.
“I’m difficult to play against.”