Photo credit: Maddie MacFarlane
Coaches dream of having players who embody their program’s culture, demonstrate selflessness, and are consistently looking to improve elements of their game with the team’s interest in mind. Over the summer of 2015, the University of Denver Pioneers were quite literally gifted exactly that — Colin Staub — as an addition to their incoming freshman class from the United States Air Force Academy.
“The one thing we loved about Colin was how great of a kid he was; that was apparent right away, that he was going to be a person that was going to be an excellent teammate and a good person in the locker room,” DU head coach Jim Montgomery said. “What we didn’t know was how intelligent he was of an athlete and player. He’s just consistently gotten better every year. Every year he’s added offense to his game, he’s changed his body off the ice to become faster on the ice, his details on the ice have always been his strength and that goes with his intelligence. He’s just someone every year that earns more and more ice time because of how great a teammate he is and how well he executes and the effort he plays with.”
The familiarity of Staub’s name goes beyond his whirlwind tale of winding up on DU’s roster. The name may be recognizable from his success in critical moments, as an integral component on the powerplay or having tied with former center Matt Marcinew on the top five of the national championship roster for goals with 10.
One day before cadet basic training, Staub found out he was diagnosed with a progressive eye disease called keratoconus, which thins the cornea into a cone shape and often vision becomes disoriented and blurry requiring a corneal transplant. The diagnosis resulted in immediate rejection from the Air Force Academy.
As a Colorado Springs native, Staub had limited options after losing his opportunity with Air Force, as he chose to forego college for three years pursuing junior-A hockey with the Wichita Falls Wildcats of the North American Hockey League (NAHL). After a few phone calls from Air Force’s head coach Frank Serratore and Wichita Falls coach John LaFontaine, Staub found himself on the roster of a prestigious program contending to claim its eighth national title.
Staub immediately had to transition and adapt to Denver hockey’s distinctive culture and compete against his classmates for ice time. The 5-foot-11, 192-pound forward began to pilot his offensive rhythm. In the historic Battle on Blake against the Colorado College Tigers at Coors Field, Staub notched the game-winner in Denver’s 4-1 victory on Feb. 20, 2016. Less than a month later, Staub would end the longest-game in Magness history 4-3 in double overtime against the University of Nebraska Omaha. He finished his freshman season with nine points on five goals and four assists.
“My freshman year, it’s every kid’s dream to score in an outdoor game or to score that OT winner,” Staub said. “For me, I just want to come into every game with the mindset that I’m going to help my team win. I’ve been fortunate enough to produce in those games and it makes me very happy to be able to do that for the team.”
Sporting the number 24, Staub is outstandingly versatile between lines and selfless on the puck. Each play is executed with such precision and composure while he almost always appears to be two strides ahead of the opposition. Consequently, in his sophomore year, Staub nearly doubled the production of his first season amassing 20 points on 10 goals and 10 assists. He was tied in second alongside classmates Troy Terry and Jarid Lukosevicius for powerplay goals each with five apiece, trailing only Henrik Borgstrom who had eight.
“His offense has gotten better every year right? He’s [been] an integral part of our powerplay since the end of his freshman year. Why he plays so well in big moments is because he’s grounded in the process,” Montgomery said. “He never gets too high, he never gets too low. He always understands exactly what he needs to do and he focuses on those things and that gives him success. That’s why he continues to have success because he’s very professional games, practices and off-ice duties with school. He is a 3.9 [GPA] student.”
Staub is a Business Information Analytics major with a Finance minor in DU’s Daniels College of Business, possibly the most rigorous combination of degrees on top of balancing his orchestrated schedule as a Division l athlete.
With the start of the 2017-18 season underway, Staub has ascended from the fourth line to the top line. He’s had success lighting the lamp earlier on than his first two seasons and is skating alongside Gambrell and Terry.
“I kind of came into the season feeling more confident in myself, I had a few nice bounces early on and it’s been a nice little streak of playing with some players that are making me look good out there,” Staub said. “When you get a chance to play with Troy and Dylan they’re going to make plays happen and I’ve been able to put my stick on some pucks in that big moment so it’s been really fun for me to have this role that I’m in right now and I hope that it continues.”
Despite his leap in the linechart, Staub has maintained his humble virtue that is engrained in his daily operations.
“I think the greatest thing about the system we play is that everyone can fill in on a role. As long as you play to the best of your abilities you can make things happen in our system,” Staub said. “That makes me confident that I can play on our first line and play the way that I like to play and produce, but also play on the fourth line and produce there as well. I don’t really even think that we have lines in the depth chart kind of way, we just have all four lines and everyone kind of goes and executes our process. I think that’s why we are so successful.”
The Pioneers took a risk on a player looking to fulfill his dream of playing collegiate hockey. In turn, Denver retained a priceless reward.
“He’s an unbelievable kid. If my daughters are lucky enough to marry a young man as well-grounded and as good a person as him I don’t think I could say no, and he’s a great hockey player,” Montgomery said. “The thing I love about him is I’ll move him anywhere and I could go to him and tell him why and he goes, ‘Coach wherever you think I’m going to help the team most is where I’m happy to be.’ As a coach, that’s all you want right? Players that are team-first. He embodies team-first. There is no question that he will be wearing a letter next year.”