In a stunning move Tuesday morning, the Blackhawks fired head coach Joel Quenneville and assistant coaches Kevin Dineen and Ulf Samuelsson, then named Jeremy Colliton as the team’s head coach. Colliton, who’s just 33, becomes the youngest active head coach in the NHL and takes over after coaching the IceHogs since the summer of 2017.
Colliton will be coaching four players older than him: Chris Kunitz (39), Duncan Keith (35), Cam Ward (34) and Corey Crawford (33).
An Alberta native, Colliton’s hockey career took him to the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders before the New York Islanders selected him in the second round (58th overall) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Two years later, the then-20-year-old center made his NHL debut Nov. 23, 2005 in a 4-3 Islanders’ loss to the Sabres.
For the rest of the decade, Colliton split his time between the Islanders and the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers, spending more time with the latter. During the course of four seasons, he appeared in only 42 NHL games with one goal and two assists. By the 2009-10 season, he’d moved on to Europe, scoring 11 goals with 10 assists with Rogle BK in Sweden. Colliton bounced between North America and Europe during the next few seasons before post-concussion syndrome limited him to only three games in 2013-14. On Jan. 9, 2014, he announced his retirement and immediately transitioned into a coaching role.
For four seasons, Colliton was the head coach of Mora IK in Sweden, the last professional team he played with prior to retirement. In the 2016-17 season, Mora IK had the best regular season record in its league and earned promotion to the top tier of the SHL. That performance caught the eye of the Blackhawks, who brought Colliton back to North America and made him the IceHogs head coach.
Rockford flourished under Colliton’s guidance, reaching the Western Conference Finals of the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Rockford went 40-28-4 in the regular season before catching fire in the postseason, sweeping the Chicago Wolves and the Manitoba Moose in the first two rounds.
As for the man himself, Colliton seems to have a cool, calm demeanor behind the bench, as IceHogs goalie and Blackhawks prospect Collin Delia told NBC Sports Chicago last season:
“Somewhat stoic, if I can stay that,” Delia said, describing Colliton. “Calmness. Very cerebral individual and it kind of helps everyone rationalize the game a little more clearly when he has that presence in the locker room. He’s never just shouting or yelling. The message is conveyed in a very deliberate, well-thought out manner and I think that goes along with the rest of the staff.”
Mark Bernard, the Blackhawks vice president of hockey operations/team affiliates, was effusive in his praise of Colliton’s work with the 2017-18 IceHogs:
“An A-plus,” Bernard said. “Jeremy has a great way of communicating with the players, he’s very prepared, he has a great demeanor about him, he’s very calm. He’s handled this group fantastic right from Day 1 knowing we were going to have a very young team here, a lot like the teams he had in Mora over in Sweden: young players that he had to develop and turn them into winners and he’s done that here, along with his staff of Sheldon [Brookbank] and Derek [King] and Peter Aubry and Adam Gill, they’ve all done a fantastic job.”
According to sources consulted by Jay Zawaski from 670 The Score, Collition is perhaps a break from the older, traditional protopype of hockey coaches:
Asked my best Hawks source about Colliton: “He likes analytics & is open to all information, good communicator and motivator. His teams play with energy, that will be the biggest, most noticeable difference. Really smart hockey guy, good guy. I think he will be great.”— Jay Zawaski (@JayZawaski670) November 6, 2018
Another source on Colliton: “Much more “modern”. Embraces all information, open minded, newer systems, and he’s already been working with the younger players and is the right guy for where this team is heading...going younger with the system kids coming into the fold.”— Jay Zawaski (@JayZawaski670) November 6, 2018
Colliton also sat down with Scott Powers from The Athletic last summer and took some questions from the media during the Blackhawks developmental camp in July: