OXFORD, Ohio – Miami hockey has not seen a large number of transfers, and even fewer switch colleges from New England to become RedHawks.
And although former Boston College defenseman and Montréal Canadiens draft pick Colin Sullivan has battled injuries throughout his collegiate career, he is completely healthy for the stretch run of his senior career.
“He puts in the work every day in practice, he’s always looking to get better,” senior and student coach Johnny Wingels said. “Early on the ice, late off the ice, it’s nice to see a good kid like him get his opportunity now and be rewarded for it.”
Sullivan originally committed to Yale while playing for Avon, a prestigious prep school near his hometown of Milford, Conn. He and his family decided he should remain at Avon to complete his high school years, and he decommitted from Yale and signed with Boston College.
He joined the Eagles in the fall of 2012, a year after being selected in the seventh round by Montréal.
“You’re playing for the best coach – and arguably the most decorated coach in college hockey,” Sullivan said. “Jerry York was an amazing coach, and it was a fun experience. My whole family’s from the Boston area, so it was nice having them come to every single one of my games.”
Sullivan logged 32 games with Boston College his freshman season, but playing time was an issue and he decided to pursue other options. Transferring players have to sit out for a season, and Sullivan joined USHL Green Bay while in limbo, accumulating a pair of goals and six assists in 41 games during 2013-14.
Fortunately for the RedHawks, a former MU forward contacted Sullivan and played a key role in bringing him to Oxford.
In prep school, Kevin Morris played for rival Salisbury with Sullivan’s best friend.
“Kevin shot me a text and asked me if I was interested in Miami, and of course I was,” Sullivan said. “I’d never been to the campus and was interested that someone was actually going to take a look at me. When I came here for a visit I just fell in love with the place, so playing New England prep school actually brought me here with the connections that I had back there.”
After his redshirt year, Sullivan was ready to contribute as a sophomore. But after dressing for three of Miami’s first four games in 2014-15, he was shut down with a recurring groin injury.
“It was just so frustrating to come so close, to being in the lineup again, and all in the sudden you have to take your foot off the gas pedal and go back to square one,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan logged just nine games his sophomore season, picking up a lone assist in the best-of-3 home playoff series vs. Western Michigan.
Wingels, a defenseman himself and brother of Ottawa Senators forward Tommy Wingels, tried to help Sullivan through his transitional period.
“I think he had a unique experience at Boston College, and he lost some confidence there,” Wingels said. “And I was just telling him that he needs to play his game. Boston College is a great hockey school – they have the history that they have, and he was clearly good enough to be able to commit there – so it was just a matter of getting his confidence back, because he clearly has it in him to be a good player at this level.
“It’s never fun to lose your confidence as a player, because that’s something that’s very difficult to get back. You just have to fight through it sometimes, and it might take longer than you’d hoped.”
Junior year started off with plenty of promise, as Sullivan scored his first college goal in the season opener vs. Providence, juking a defender in the slot before burying a top-shelf wrister.
“I kind of blacked out to be honest with you,” Sullivan said. “We were playing Providence, too – my whole family went to Providence, it was down to Providence and Miami – so it was nice to get a goal against them.”
But after going under the knife for the fourth time for his groin injury, Sullivan said he tried to come back too soon, as he was limited to six games the first two months. Fortunately he was healthy for the second half of 2015-16 and was in the lineup 15 times.
Last summer was the first in three years that Sullivan did not require off-season surgery, but he still had trouble getting back on the ice. He did not dress for five of the RedHawks’ first eight games last fall.
“It was definitely frustrating,” Sullivan said. “Everyone’s got to pay their dues, and I think I definitely have, but it’s something where you put your nose to the grindstone and work hard every day, do what you need to do, and finally I’m back in the lineup and hopefully making a positive impact and helping us win some hockey games.”
His attitude and hard work eventually paid off. Finally, nearly four years after transferring from Boston College, the search for more ice time that drove him to Oxford is coming to fruition.
Sullivan has played in 20 consecutive games and has three assists, all in his last nine contests.
And that confidence that earned him an NHL draft pick and a spot on Boston College’s blue line is finally back.
“For me, confidence is really key,” Sullivan said. “I rely so much on my skating and my mobility – not feeling that pain down there. Even when it was heeled, I would kind of mentally expect to feel that pain. It’s just crazy how much of a mental effect being injured has on your entire body. Now I’m at the point where that’s not a factor any more. I feel like the old Colin Sullivan again.”
He picked up helpers in back-to-back games for the first time in his Miami career on Dec. 31 at Ohio State and Jan. 6 vs. St. Cloud State. Sullivan also earned an assist on Willie Knierim’s game winner vs. Western Michigan on Jan. 28 with a well-placed stretch pass.
“It’s taking me back to high school when I’m totally healthy and I’m having fun playing again,” Sullivan said. “There was a stretch mentally where I’d come back for a couple of games and I’d get hurt again, and I’d come back for a couple of games and I’d get hurt again. I was never 100 percent. Now that I’m back on track, I’m on cloud nine right now.”
Making Sullivan even more useful to the team is his ability to play forward. He has been listed on the fourth line several times this season, enabling the team to dress a seventh blueliner.
“Any way that I can help the team,” Sullivan said. “If Coach wants me to strap on the pads and go in play in net, I’ll gladly do that. If he wants me to sit in the corner and stand on my head for three hours, I’ll do that too. Whatever it’s going to take to help the team, and I can take a couple of faceoffs, and be a (fourth-line forward) and give the top-line guys a little break, and go out and do that too, yeah, definitely.”
Sullivan and classmates Wingels and Justin Greenberg have become close friends at Miami, and both said one of his best personality attributes is his sense of humor.
“When (Sullivan) transferred here he was sort of in between classes for a little bit while his credits were figured out, and he ultimately got slotted into my class, which is great because we got to spend another year with him,” Wingels said. “He’s a great guy – he’s probably one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, and there’s never a dull time when you’re around him.”
Both Wingels and Greenberg have gone through their share of injury issues as well, and Sullivan’s positive attitude has helped them deal with their respective issues.
“Even with right now, with me being hurt (lower-body injury), he’s so positive,” Greenberg said. “He’s going to be a groomsman in my wedding, we’re so close. We do everything together. He’s just a great guy.”
Greenberg said he also noticed the improvement in Sullivan’s game as the months have passed since his injury.
“This year, it’s not just that he’s gotten in the lineup, but he’s contributing and playing well,” Greenberg said. “Making great plays and he’s learned to defend with his feet, and he’s really made an impact – in my opinion – when he’s played, since I’ve been watching. I tend to watch him more since I’m so close with him and I think he’s played great this year.”
Sullivan is also a favorite among his hockey peers, according to Greenberg.
“He would do anything for anyone on this team,” Greenberg said. “If you went through the locker room, there’s not one guy that say they don’t love Sully. He’s the best. I can’t say enough good things about him, and I’m sure most people wouldn’t be able to either.”
Now healthy, Sullivan would like to continue playing hockey after he graduates this spring. He is a history major with a minor in entrepreneurship, boasting a 3.3 grade-point average.
But in addition to his ultimate pursuit of a traditional job, Sullivan plans on joining the military for four-plus years, and is especially interested in special forces.
“I want to serve my country before I reap the benefits from it,” Sullivan said. “I think that whole lifestyle and the aspect of being on a team – and those guys are super-competitive guys, high-octane guys – I just want to be around that. It’s going to be similar to here, same exact kind of guys, Division I athletes. I just think that’s something that I would really enjoy.”
Though everything hasn’t worked out as Sullivan had originally planned when he moved here from New England, transferring to Miami is something he has never regretted.
“If I could do it all over again, Miami is definitely the place where I’d want to go,” Sullivan said. “Coming from out east, you don’t hear about Miami University – everybody thinks I play hockey in Miami, Florida – which is interesting. Coming out here, it’s all cornfields and farmland, and the minute I drove down High Street, I said, mom, dad, this is where I want to be, this is the right fit.”