Beanpot spotlight: Cam Atkinson ready to lead BC on another postseason run
|02.14.11 at 8:13 am ET|
Boston College’s Cam Atkinson led the country in goals last season and is within striking distance of that title again this year as he leads the Eagles into Monday night’s Beanpot championship game against Northeastern. But six years ago, it appeared that he would never get the chance to achieve those feats.
A week before tryouts during his freshman year at Avon Old Farms in Connecticut, Atkinson broke his leg and was told he would probably never play hockey again.
“That was a pretty down time in my career,” Atkinson said. “Basically, the doctor came in and told me, ‘There goes your career.’ That was the only time I actually started crying.”
But Atkinson, a native of Greenwich, Conn., refused to let his career end that day. As soon as he could get back on his feet, he started training and working up the strength in his leg again. He said he did physical therapy twice a day and never even thought about giving up.
By the middle of his sophomore year, several Division 1 schools were beginning to recruit Atkinson. The following summer, he was selected to play for the U.S. Under-18 Team that won the silver medal in the 2006 U-18 Junior World Cup in the Czech Republic.
After the tournament, teammate Jimmy Hayes, who had already committed to BC, told Atkinson that the Eagles were interested in him. Atkinson said he didn’t believe Hayes at first, but a couple of days later he got a phone call asking him to visit BC. Atkinson, who called BC his “dream school,” committed on the spot during his visit.
“It was a no-brainer for me because I knew in my heart that I wanted to go to BC,” Atkinson said. “So I was just waiting for them to call. Once they did, it was a pretty easy decision.”BC coach Jerry York said the Eagles had already seen a little bit of Atkinson at Avon and that the U-18 tournament confirmed what they had already suspected — Atkinson was a player they wanted.
“He was a player that just jumped off the rink,” York said. “You could tell right away he was going to be an outstanding college player. … Some recruits can skate, they can pass, they can shoot, but when you put it all together, they’re still trying to figure out the game of hockey. Cam really knew how to play the game, and he was an outstanding talent.”
That talent didn’t translate to immense success at the college level right away, though. Atkinson, who was selected by the Blue Jackets in the sixth round of the NHL draft after his senior year at Avon, registered seven goals and 12 assists as a freshman at BC. Although that’s certainly nothing to scoff at, it merely set the table for the feast that was to follow in his sophomore campaign.
Atkinson helped lead the Eagles to their second national title in three years by tallying a nation-best 30 goals to go along with 23 assists. He was scorching hot down the stretch, collecting 13 goals and seven assists in his final 13 games. He notched a rather absurd three hat tricks during that stretch, including one against Yale in the Northeast regional final.
“I think his confidence level was really high and his compete level got better as the year progressed,” York said. “When you have a hockey player like Cam and you raise the compete level and raise the confidence level, you get the kind of year he had last year.”
After the season, the 5-foot-8 Atkinson had the opportunity to sign with Columbus and turn pro. Following much deliberation, though, the communications major decided to return to BC for his junior year.
“That was obviously the hardest decision I had to make my whole career,” Atkinson said. “To turn pro is every kid’s dream when they strap up the skates. But I didn’t think I was mature enough as a person or as a hockey player. I knew if I came back, I would develop more as a player and as a person.”
Atkinson has continued to be one of the best scorers in the country this season. He ranks second in Hockey East and is tied for sixth nationally with 21 goals. His 0.78 goals per game pace is actually slightly ahead of his 0.71 average from last year. Atkinson said the key to his success is simple — he likes to shoot.
“I try and get on the ice before and after practice and take as many shots as possible from all different angles,” Atkinson said. “I try working with the coaches as much as possible, just getting on the ice and just shooting. If you want to score, you have to shoot, right?”
York said Atkinson has improved other areas of his game as well this season.
“I think his ability to play without the puck has remarkably improved,” York said. “With the puck, he’s always been very talented, very gifted and very dynamic. But now he’s playing just as well away from the puck.”
Linemate Joe Whitney said Atkinson has achieved his goal of maturing as a person, too.
“I think he’s become more of a leader on our team,” the senior captain said. “Guys look up to him, and he’s doing a good job of being a leader and setting a great example for the younger guys.”
With seven games left in the regular season, another strong finish by Atkinson could help the top-ranked Eagles make another deep postseason run.
It could also help Atkinson garner some individual honors. Last season, he was named to the All-Hockey East second team and NCAA All-Tournament team. This season, he’s a candidate for not just All-Hockey East first-team honors, but also for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the country’s top player. Atkinson isn’t concerned with any of that, though.
“It doesn’t really matter to me,” Atkinson said. “It’s something I definitely don’t think about. My objective is to do whatever I can do to help the team win games.”