by Brent Marcotte || AHL On The Beat Archive
The Portland Pirates are known for their recent player development, grooming prospects such as Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe to elite status in the AHL. With another top prospect basking in the bright lights of Portland in Luke Adam, it is easy to highly laud the individual accolades.
However, for the first-place Pirates with a record of 13-4-1-0, it is the tutelage of head coach Kevin Dineen and the accomplished veterans that mean the most to these young prospects and their early success. On hand in Portland this season, the likes of Mark Parrish, Matt Ellis and Mark Mancari have been present to bring necessary veteran leadership to an otherwise youthful team.
One Pirates skater who knows plenty of leading by example and being a mentor to teammates is new acquisition Colin Stuart. Growing up in a hockey family with three siblings extending their careers into the collegiate and professional ranks, the veteran forward has played the vital role of both mentor and mentee, in sibling as well as teammate development throughout his hockey career.
Perhaps more well-known as the older brother of Boston Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart, Colin has paid his dues in making a name for himself and the Stuart family as a whole. Earning bragging rights early in his professional career, Colin netted his first career NHL goal against Mark’s Bruins on Dec. 31, 2007. However, Mark got the last laugh by netting the game-winning goal in a 5-2 Bruins victory.
“From a brothers standpoint we are all competitors and all want to win,” says Colin on his reaction to playing against Mark. “We’re each other’s biggest support, I want the best for him and he wants the best for me, same with Mike, same with Cristin. Obviously we are a family and that’s what comes first.”
Sacrifice for the welfare of those held close can be seen as the focal point growing up in the Stuart household.
“We always joke that my mom burned through two Suburbans growing up taking four kids going to four different rinks, games, and practices,” said Stuart. “Putting 300,000 miles on the Suburban, that sort of sacrifice is what I’m eternally grateful for; Mom and Dad are a huge reason why we’re still playing.”
Hockey is a sport that requires total dedication with time invested from not only the skater, but the family as well. These sacrifices may be seen as a burden by some, but to the Stuarts it was always a bonding experience. It all started for Colin as a youngster watching and admiring the players from the USHL’s Rochester Mustangs that the family took in as their own as hosts. From various Mustangs that stopped by throughout the years to the leadership example set by oldest brother Mike Stuart, Colin and his younger siblings Mark and Cristin (a captain for the Boston College women’s ice hockey team from 2004-08) didn’t need to look far for an exemplary role model.
Mentoring responsibilities have been passed down through the years, and it all started with the eldest Stuart, Mike. Prior to entering the professional ranks, Mike played collegiately for Colorado College from 1998-2002, helping Colin along his way during the latter two seasons in which he performed for the Tigers.
After Mike moved on to pursue his professional career, Colin took on similar responsibilities during his last two collegiate seasons as youngest brother Mark enrolled at Colorado College as a highly touted first-round draft pick.
“They were definitely memories I will never forget,” said Stuart about the opportunity to play with his two brothers. “It was so special to get to play with both brothers in that atmosphere.”
As the Atlanta Thrashers’ fifth-round pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Colin began his quest to reach the show after his 2003-04 senior season at Colorado College. A proclaimed defensive forward, Stuart’s grit around the puck earned him his first call-up to Atlanta during a special 2007-08 season that saw him win the Calder Cup with the Chicago Wolves. Getting the chance to play 18 games for the Thrashers during that championship season helped him add an important asset to an already tight-knit group in Chicago.
“When it comes to winning championships it takes everybody,” Stuart said. “There wasn’t a guy in Chicago that didn’t contribute in some way, even the extras on the road. We were a tight knit group and it became a family atmosphere. I can see a lot of similarities with this Pirates team.
“There is a good mix with young guys and older veterans. Look at Mark Parrish who has played almost 800 games in the NHL along with a bunch of others who have been around the block. I was fortunate in Chicago to have John Anderson and Todd Nelson as coaches, and it is very similar to here with Dino (Kevin Dineen) and Weino (assistant coach Eric Weinrich). They are great player-coaches and respect their players, and in return their players respect them a lot.”
Doing his part to help the Pirates in their early-season successes, Stuart has had a start easily on pace to produce career highs in all offensive categories. Last season, he established a career high in points (36), assists (19), and finished one shy of matching his career mark in goals (17) for an Abbotsford team that advanced to the North Division finals.
Through 18 games this year, Stuart has already earned 16 points (4-12) and logged a career high seven-point streak (3-5-8).
“So far this season, I have gained a lot of confidence. I have been a defensive forward my entire career and credit goes to the coaches for having the confidence in me by putting me in offensive situations.”
Thanks to the 13-4-1-0 start that saw them run a franchise record seven-game home winning streak to start the season, there are high hopes in Portland. Led by family man Colin Stuart, there is little reason to doubt that this brotherhood is primed to make a serious run at a championship.