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Collins optimistic about Firebirds potential

July 22, 2013
By Shane Dale, Arizona Rubber Magazine
With over two decades of coaching experience, Phoenix Firebirds 18U AAA and 16U AAA coach Todd Collins has plenty of know-how when it comes to rebuilding teams that lose most of their players from one year to the next. 
That savvy will come in especially handy during the 2013-14 season.
“We have only three returning players (on the 18U team),” he said, noting his squads usually average 7-10 returning players the following season. “We’re very excited to work with and develop the boys, but it’s a whole new group and a whole new challenge.”         
Not to be outdone, the 16U team, which Collins will coach for the first time this season, will usher in a completely new cast.
“I’ve been doing it for so many years now that I’ve been going through the same regimen, whether we have a whole new group or not,” he said. “You’re only as strong as your weakest link, and we work on getting the players’ skill sets up to par from the defensive zone to the offensive zone, from breakouts to attacking the zone, to power-play options and the penalty kill.”
Collins says he learns a lot about his new teams during the first month of the season. 
“The first four weeks (is when) I’ll really be able to tell where we’re going to be as far as our skill set, and slowly implement our tactics throughout the season,” he said.
“The most important thing for me is getting to know these guys’ character, because it’s not just about hockey; it’s about teaching these young men life skills and having them realize the discipline it takes to fulfill their aspirations, on and off the ice.”
Collins is counting on his handful of returning 18U players - forward Jimmy Ericsson and defensemen Tanner Otts and Sean Winikates - to lead the team to the same kind of success it enjoyed last season when it captured the Tier I state championship. 
“We’re looking for some great leadership out of them,” he said. “They were key contributors (last season), and they just had a very good camp. They definitely have an opportunity to step up this coming season and have a really good shot to play Junior A hockey the following year.”
Collins would love to see his incoming 18U and 16U squads evolve like his U18 teams of recent years. 
“I’ve been very blessed,” he said. “The last two years have been phenomenal, and last year’s team was one of the best, character-wise, in my 26 years.
“We had an absolute blast and they overachieved, to be honest. They might not have been the most skilled, but they could connect the dots with whatever system I implemented.
“That’s what it’s all about: taking a look at the type of group you have. It kind of comes down to a little science, putting guys at the right position to succeed.”
And Collins recognizes his job extends well beyond just developing good hockey players.
“I think that’s the most rewarding part for me - getting these kids at a young age and their mindset right about being team players, working hard and having the right attitude,” he said. 
“Probably the most fulfilling part of my job is when you get players who come back years later and thank you, not just for the hockey but the life lessons I’ve been able to instill in these young men’s lives.”
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