Expanded role helps Blackwell grow at Harvard

By DJ Powers

Colin Blackwell - Harvard University

Photo: Harvard forward and San Jose Sharks prospect Colin Blackwell is currently ranked fifth in scoring on the Crimson roster (courtesy of Rich Barnes/Icon SMI)

The 2012-13 season has been a tough one so far for the Harvard Crimson. And with a host of injuries and the loss of four key sophomores earlier in the year, it has made the challenge of climbing out of the ECAC basement that much more difficult. It has also forced players such as sophomore Colin Blackwell to take on expanded or different roles.

Blackwell has played in 18 games to date, posting 12 points (three goals, nine assists). Of his three goals, two have come on special teams, including posting Harvard’s lone shorthanded tally on the season so far. The North Andover, MA native also missed five games earlier in the season due to injury.

Blackwell has been thrust into many different roles this season, playing with different linemates regularly. Most recently, he has played on the Crimson’s line that also includes senior Alex Fallstrom (BOS) and freshman Tommy O’Regan. While it has been difficult at times, Blackwell welcomes the challenge and sees it as an opportunity to develop and improve his overall game.

“Whenever people get injured or whatever, others need to step up”, noted Blackwell. “When the opportunity presents itself, you have to go out there and seize the moment and the opportunity. So I’ve tried to do that. I think the coaching staff has a lot of confidence in me. No matter where I’m playing I just try and go out and play to the final second of my shift. The coaches see me as an energy guy that can go out there and get things going for the team. It’s one of those things that I enjoy doing and whenever I step on the ice, it’s something that I look forward to doing.”

One notable area where Blackwell has seen an expanded role for the Crimson this season is in where he plays. Primarily a center, he has spent considerable time at right wing and has played quite effectively at both positions, showing his versatility. While it has been an adjustment playing on wing, Blackwell is happy playing either position.

“It’s worked out really well playing on wing”, said Blackwell. “It doesn’t really matter to me which position I’m playing at because, with the way that our system is, the wingers are able to bring out the puck and cut across on the breakouts, and that gives me the opportunity to use my speed, try and tie up some of the other players and possibly create some odd-man rushes. So far, it’s been a bit of an adjustment for me, but I’m really enjoying it.”

Blackwell attended the San Jose Sharks’ prospect camp over the summer. The many lessons he learned at camp were brought back with him when he returned to Harvard. And while for some players lessons learned at NHL prospect camps are soon forgotten as their collegiate careers resume, that hasn’t been the case with Blackwell. As the sophomore forward explains, those lessons from the Sharks' camp have continually stayed with him and he tries to apply them in every practice and game.

“Being out there at the camp was a humbling and unbelievable experience because you’re playing with some of the best players in the world”, admitted Blackwell. “I saw some really skilled players out there. I tried to learn from them and emulate what they did. One of the things that they made us do at the camp was keep a notebook. They had us write down stuff that we learned each day. I still look at it each day and it has really helped me out a lot in progressing in my development this year.”

Two things that Blackwell learned at the camp that has been evident in his play with Harvard this season is his improved footwork and greater confidence with the puck.

“Some of the things that we worked on that have really helped me were puck protection and just learning to keep my feet moving so that I can draw penalties and stuff like that”, said Blackwell. “What’s happened with me in the last few weeks because of what I learned at the camp is I’m able to keep my feet moving more, especially along the wall, and I think I’ve improved a bit on shooting through traffic. When I had to go up against the other guys (in camp), I think I was moved off the puck more than I should’ve been, so I was able to work on that, as well. I like to use my speed whenever possible. Some people say that you should work on your weaknesses, but at the camp, they stressed working on strengths, as well.”

One area where Blackwell has worked hard is in simplifying his game, and that has already begun to pay off from a developmental standpoint. Where it’s been particularly evident is in how he creates offensive opportunities both for himself and his teammates.

“I think one of the things I’m trying to do is break the habit of trying to be too pretty or too fancy with my plays”, explained Blackwell. “Sometimes I try to make things too complicated or too fine instead of just getting pucks to the net and being smarter or keeping it simple. Over the summer, I began to work on some things that would help me improve my play such as being more poised with the puck and puck protection down low. I’m learning how to win those one-on-one battles, even with the energy aspect of my game. I’m also learning how to confidently make (better) plays, too. One of the things that I’m working to improve is getting more pucks to the net. Throughout my years of playing hockey, one of the things that was kind of drilled into me was to shoot the puck more because I was always looking to pass. I have a bad habit of sometimes pulling up and not shooting the puck, so that’s something that the coaches have worked with me on. I’m trying to get better at that so I can make more plays. I think a lot of times Coach Donato sees me as kind of a grinder, but he allows me to go out there, be creative and try to make plays on my own.”

Although Blackwell is still developing as a player and individual, he is moving in the right direction. The approach and diligence that he has taken in his growth process is serving him well at Harvard, and it is something that should bode well for his future with the San Jose Sharks.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF