Hat Tricks Insider Notebook: Connor McCollum makes quality 1st impression

by Jim Cerny, Hat Tricks Insider

Connor McCollum certainly knows how to make a solid first impression.

The 26-year-old goalie showed much poise and a flare for the dramatic in his pro debut Saturday, leading the Danbury Hat Tricks to a 3-2 shootout win against the Binghamton Black Bears. The rookie made 51 saves, not including a perfect 3-for-3 showing in the shootout when he stopped Binghamton’s Nikita Ivashkin, Dustin Jesseau and Tyson Kirkby.

“McCollum certainly competed at a very high level [Saturday] night,” Hat Tricks coach and general manager Billy McCreary said. “You could tell he was embracing the moment and enjoying the work he was putting in. I know the boys enjoyed it as well.”

Unfazed after allowing a goal 1:25 into the game, McCollum made 14 first-period saves and stopped all 20 he faced in the second. In overtime, McCollum made three more saves, including an incredible 1-on-1 stop against Jesseau, the former Hat Tricks sniper who threw his head back to stare at the Danbury Arena ceiling after the save.

“His ability to battle and compete was huge,” goaltending coach Matt Voity said. “He was put in some awkward, challenging situations and stayed composed and was able to attack the puck, even from some difficult positions.”

McCollum hoisted the Litchfield Distillery barrel after the win and was named the game’s First Star. He started again Saturday and made 32 saves in Binghamton, when the Hat Tricks lost 3-1.  The Pickering, Ontario native was signed earlier in the week with the Hat Tricks and practiced Thursday.

JMac is coming back

Speaking of players who helped Danbury win the title last season, Johnny MacDonald will rejoin the Hat Tricks this coming week. 

MacDonald led Hat Tricks defensemen with 37 points (eight goals, 29 assists) in 48 games last season and added six assists in 10 playoff games. This will be his third season with the Hat Tricks. He’s already fourth in franchise history with 53 assists.

“With ‘JMac’ coming back on Monday, we are really starting to solidify our leadership and our defensive core,” McCreary said.

Jarod Yau and Xavier Abdella, two key defensemen from the championship team last season, returned to the Hat Tricks this weekend. Yau led Danbury with 35 assists last season and picked one up Saturday against Binghamton. Abdella, who assisted on Michael Marchesan’s championship-winning goal last season, provides veteran stability to the blue line.

Danbury also signed 39-year-old defenseman Jim Jensen and he played in both games this weekend against the Black Bears. Jensen also has ECHL experience and was McCreary’s defense partner in 2011-12 with the New Jersey Outlaws of the FHL. He spent 10 years away from hockey but returned last season to play 15 games with Elmira in the FPHL.

“Jensen is a rock back there,” McCreary explained. “He provides a physical presence and is great on the penalty kill.”

Championship series rematch next weekend at Danbury Arena

The Hat Tricks need to turn the page on last season but it’s been hard to do so in October, so far. There was the championship banner raising and ring ceremony on opening weekend and a rematch with the Black Bears, whom the Hat tricks rallied to eliminate in the second round last season.

Next the Hat Tricks will host the Carolina Thunderbirds on Friday and Saturday at Danbury Arena. That would be the same Thunderbirds whom the Hat Tricks defeated after trailing 2-0 in the best-of-5 Commissioner’s Cup Final, winning Game 5 -- and their first title – in an epic overtime.

“You’ve seen it already, we’ve got the target on our backs,” veteran goalie Frankie McClendon said. “Every game is a playoff game. We’ve got to be prepared for that.”

Photos: Chris Rutsch