In the preseason, Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon didn’t shy away from putting lofty expectations on sophomore forward Ross Colton.
“He’s got to emerge as a leader. Not only in his play, but taking responsibility to help other players around him. He has a great attitude and wants to put the team on his back. He’s 10 pounds stronger and looks like a man out there. He’s ready,” said Sneddon, in his 15th season behind the Catamount bench.
Colton wasted no time in showing the improvement in his game as he scored four goals in the opening weekend split with Colorado College, including a hat trick Saturday. It took Colton 12 games to score as many goals during his freshman campaign.
An injury derailed the end of his season, but Colton put up a point per game numbers over the last 12 games of his rookie year as he adjusted and became more comfortable with the college game.
“From the start I just wanted to play my game. My confidence grew. Working with the coaches and older players made me comfortable,” said Colton.
Colton came to Burlington with high expectations after two successful seasons in the United States Hockey League (USHL). An impressive performance in the 2016 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game led to his pro stock soaring. It led to Colton hearing his name called at the 2016 NHL Draft where he was selected in the fourth round by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Two years in the USHL after prep school helped Colton be a more rounded player as he entered Hockey East.
“Just playing a three-way game. Coming from the USHL, I learned more of a defensive style. It was all offense before that. You have to be strong in the defensive zone. It was challenging at first. I watched a lot of film and stayed after practice,” said the Robinsville, N.J. native.
Colton is a little undersized for NHL standards, but he tries to make up for that by hounding pucks and using his creativity to make plays.
“Whenever the puck is in the offensive zone and the puck is on my stick I want to be creating something. I want to set up my teammates or bang in rebounds,” Colton began. “I feel like I’m always around the net. I’ve been taught to be around the net and get to the dirty areas.”
“I was a huge fan of Zach Parise. He was the hardest working guy on the ice. He was always going 100 percent. He outworks guys in the corner and is around the net a lot,” Colton said.
In addition to off-season workouts and honing his skills on his own time, Colton spent a week at the Tampa Bay Lightning Development Camp.
“It was my second year going there. Both years were an unbelievable experience. I like going to see where I stack up against their best prospects,” Colton stated. “They tell me to keep improving. One day I hope to suit up for them.”
A split on home ice against a weak Colorado College team wasn’t what UVM was hoping for to start the season. Nonetheless, expectations remain high. The Catamounts were picked to finish sixth in the Hockey East Preseason Coaches Poll.
“We know we can play. We know we might not have the most skill, but we harp on being the hardest working team. We brought in a great group of freshman. We have great goaltending with Stef [Lekkas],” said Colton.
“We didn’t know what to expect last year. I think we know what we can do this year,” Colton added.
Colton and his teammates will be on the road for the next four games, including a pair at Michigan, before returning to the comfy confines of Gutterson Field House.
“It’s awesome,” Colton remarked of playing at ‘The Gutt’ as it’s affectionately referred to in Burlington. “It’s safe to say we have some of the best fans in college hockey. Every home game I get chills from the band and the student section going nuts. There’s no other feeling like it.”