Hutson Collins goal after graduating high school in the spring was competing for a spot on a North American Hockey League team.
What he didn’t expect could happen was being able to continue to play in front of friends and family in the Chippewa Valley.
The Eau Claire Memorial graduate was prepared to leave home to continue his journey in junior hockey. With the Steel having not yet made the move to Chippewa Falls the prospect of playing locally didn’t exist.
“I was ready to move away. I was preparing for that over the summer and then I was drafted by the Steel,” Collins said. “Then I had to make the team still. It wasn’t a guarantee at any time and I just put my mind to it and here I am.”
Collins has been able to make a positive impact both on and off the ice for the Steel this season.
His knowledge of the area has helped other players from different regions of the United States or from different countries adapt to their new in-season home. While he has also factored into the lineup for the Steel in their inaugural season in Chippewa Falls.
“If they’re wondering what to do, where to eat, they always ask me first because I know the layout of the area,” Collins said about his teammates. “I think it’s fun for them to have someone from where we are. It helps them feel more comfortable with the area.”
On the ice Collins has filled a valuable role for the Steel. He might not rack up the point totals — one goal in 22 games — that other forwards on the roster have, but Chippewa interim coach Carter Foguth said Collins uses his strength as a power-based forward to provide strong minutes by doing little things to help the team during his time on the ice.
“He’s hard to play against, he’s a guy you can put out there and expect to get some momentum off of his shifts,” Foguth said “He doesn’t put up the most points, but he’s a guy that goes out and works hard and guys feed off his momentum that way.”
Most players in the NAHL are looking to find their way onto a college hockey team. While this goal exists for Collins he is more focused right now on putting together a strong season for this Steel and continuing to work on his skills knowing that a good fit is better than jumping at the first opportunity.
“It’s not always about who gets there first, it’s about where you end up,” Collins said playing college hockey. “We’re all just working for that same goal and helping each other get there.”
Collins didn’t think he would still be playing in the area when the process of finding his next step following graduation begin. But things have worked out quite well for him. The Steel moving to Chippewa Falls and Collins subsequent placement on the team provided anther chance for Collins play in front of local fans and that is something he appreciates.
“My time here has been just a blast. I can’t say enough good things about it and I’m just happy to still be in this area playing hockey,” Collins said.
The Steel (6-20-1-1) have two home contests with the Kenai River (Alaska) Brown Bears scheduled at Chippewa Area Ice Arena this weekend. While the results up to this point haven’t been what the Steel had hope for — as the team sits at the bottom of the Midwest Division — Collins feels the team has what it takes to turn the season around.
“My experience (this season) has been really good so far,” Collins said. “(The team) started off on a downhill slide with the wins, but that’s not always what it is about — it’s coming together as a team and pushing forward. Really the end goal is what we have in mind, that is making the playoffs and we can still accomplish that we just have to come together as a team.”