By Larry Fisher
The Daily Courier
Shane McColgan is no stranger to producing offence. Yet, for whatever reason, the Kelowna Rockets’ leading scorer struggled to put up points at last week’s American world junior evaluation camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., and was subsequently sent home to Manhattan Beach, Calif., earlier than expected.
Playing on a line with top draft picks J.T. Miller and Rocco Grimaldi, McColgan skated in one mini-tournament game against Finland and a couple of U.S. intrasquad matches before being cut.
The week-long event featured two American entries, Finland and Sweden, with the U.S. trimming to one squad at the midway point.
“It was a good experience, and obviously I’d rather still be there, but I’ll be back in December to show them what I can do again,” McColgan said. “They just told me to keep working hard and be a leader and a captain on the team next year for Kelowna, to have a good first half of the year and get invited back for December (selection camp) and hopefully make the team.”
McColgan led the Rockets with 21 goals and 66 points in 67 regular-season games last season, before adding a team-best eight goals and 19 points in 10 playoff games as the Rockets bowed out in the second round, losing to the Portland Winterhawks in six games.
At 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, McColgan is better suited to an offensive role than a checking assignment at the world juniors, which open on Boxing Day in both Calgary and Edmonton.
He’ll have his work cut out for him in cracking the top-six forwards on Team U.S.A., for whom fellow Rocket and California product Mitchell Callahan represented as a bottom-six energy player at last year’s tournament in Buffalo.
“They told me at the beginning of camp that they wanted me to produce offensively and that’s what I do best, and I think why I got cut is because I wasn’t doing that,” McColgan said. “But I was playing a good two-way game and good defensively. They just wanted to see me score and I wasn’t providing that.”
McColgan has prior international experience with U.S. national teams, finishing third at the 2009 Under-17 Five Nations Tournament in Germany, and also earning a roster spot for last summer’s Ivan Hlinka tournament, only to be sidelined by a knee injury.
Still, Rockets president and general manager Bruce Hamilton suspects more than mediocre statistics for McColgan’s sudden departure from the latest evaluation camp.
“Unfortunately, I think there’s politics involved in this,” said Hamilton. “The American program has to get over that when these guys play in the CHL, they still deserve the same chance.
“We give the college guys a chance although very few of them make it. They don’t want our guys, but in the end, if they want to win, they’re going to need our guys.
“I hope for Shane’s case that he’s in the top end of the scoring at Christmastime and they have to reconsider. I have a funny feeling that Shane McColgan will have the last laugh here.”
Rockets head coach Ryan Huska took a softer approach. As an assistant coach with Canada’s world-junior team, Huska headed for Lake Placid to do some scouting, but he arrived after McColgan’s release.
“They have a ton of good players in that (U.S.) program, so I don’t think you can second-guess any of the decisions that they did make,” Huska said. “But it’s too bad, I would have liked to see him play and compete with some of his peers, to see how he would stack up with the rest of that American team.”
McColgan was one of only two WHL players invited to the U.S. camp, along with speedy forward Emerson Etem of the Medicine Hat Tigers, who had helped the U.S. to a bronze medal at the 2011 world juniors.
In total, there were 11 CHL-bound players among 44 hopefuls, with the other nine from the OHL, including several recent NCAA defectors.
“You can tell right when you get there that most of the guys are from college and the U.S. national program. It’s just different styles of play,” said McColgan. “But it was cool seeing all the different leagues playing against each other and how they stack up. It’ll be a really strong team. We have a lot of size and skill. We’re just going to grind away and try to beat you guys in Canada and win the gold.”
With his usage of the word “we,” it’s obvious McColgan still has himself pencilled into the American lineup. He has less than six months to permanently ink a spot.
“It’s been a dream of mine since I was about 12 or 13 years old, and it’s definitely not out of reach yet,” said McColgan. “There were three or four guys that got cut in the summer camp like I just did here and there were a few guys that didn’t even go to the summer camp that made (last year’s) team in December. So I’m still keeping my head high. I just have to come into the season strong and help my team win.”
A fifth-round pick (125th overall) by the New York Rangers in June’s NHL entry draft, McColgan will return to Kelowna next Monday to continue his off-season training under Rockets athletic therapist Jeff Thorburn. The Rockets open camp on Aug. 29, with McColgan then leaving Kelowna on Sept. 8 for his first official audition with the Rangers at a prospects tournament in Traverse City, Mich.
Once touted as a potential top-10 pick and a sure-fire first-rounder, McColgan’s draft stock plummeted over the last two seasons in Kelowna. This, despite also finishing his rookie season as Kelowna’s highest-scoring forward with 25 goals and 69 points in 71 games — three points back of defenceman Tyson Barrie.
“He did nothing wrong,” Hamilton said. “I think he gets a bad rap because people think he’s selfish and this and that, but he’s a team guy. I don’t think that (draft position) is a big deal. He’s a good player that’s going to be given an opportunity down the road here to show what he can do. Kudos to the Rangers, they took the chance and went with him, and they’ll be rewarded with a special player.”