Growing up, Collin Shirley was always close to the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey program.
As a product of Saskatoon, Sask. and regular attendee of their games during his childhood, it seems only fitting that they’d provide a home for him upon the conclusion of his Western Hockey League career.
This month, he’ll get to stand on one of the top stages in Canadian hockey and represent the school and his hometown once again at the 2019 U SPORTS Men’s Hockey All-Star Series. The opportunity and what it means isn’t lost on the third-year business student.
“It’s a pretty big honour,” Shirley said. “I was there last year as an injury replacement, so I think this year it’s a bit of a different feeling.
“It’ll be a lot of fun and I’m pretty excited for the opportunity.”
As one of eight WHL Alumni skating with the team this year, Shirley will provide an offensive touch, having posted 13 points (4G-9A) in 16 games this season during Canada West play. However, he’s happy to take on any role given to him at the event, which will pit Canada’s National Junior Team against the best U SPORTS has to offer.
It’s that mentality that allowed Shirley to thrive through a WHL career that spanned 362 regular season and playoff games with the Kootenay ICE and Kamloops Blazers. He’s also eager to show a common theme that’s emerged in recent years: that U SPORTS players aren’t going to be push overs against Canada’s elite junior hockey players.
“I think U SPORTS is kind of a league that’s in the shadows a bit,” Shirley said. “Not a lot of people take it seriously.
“For myself, it’s just competing every game and just showing that I still want to be here and do hockey for a living. There’s quite a bit on the line and I’m just going to go out there and do that.”
While opportunities in professional hockey were available for Shirley in 2017, home beckoned for the Kamloops Blazers captain. Accessing his WHL Scholarship, Shirley enrolled at the University of Saskatchewan and now lives an easy five minutes from campus. On the plus side as well, his parents get to watch him play nearly every single weekend.
“It’s quite the deal you get, and I think it’s something to be quite proud of,” Shirley said of the WHL Scholarship. “You put in five years in the WHL and then they’re paying for your tuition and books. That’s quite a bit of money.
“It’s something that I didn’t really know about at the start, but once I figured it out, it was pretty tough to pass up.”
In addition to becoming a steady source of offence for the Huskies, the skills Shirley has gained in the classroom will stick with him long after his playing days are done.
“It’s something I’ll have for the rest of my life,” Shirley noted of his education. “It’s been a great ride so far and I’m looking forward to the next little while here.”
After he put his academics first, Shirley believes there’s still an opportunity out there for him in professional hockey, something he’d like to pursue down the road once he obtains his degree. That makes the opportunity against Canada’s World Junior hopefuls an important bar for him to set; showing that he still has the skills to compete against top NHL prospects.
In the midst of his education, Shirley is ready to give one on the ice next week.
The U SPORTS All-Stars will take to the ice against Canada’s National Junior Team at the Sixteen Mile Sports Complex in Oakville, Ont., with games scheduled for December 11 at 3:00 p.m. MT and December 12 at 12:00 p.m. MT. Tickets are available at HockeyCanada.ca/Tickets, starting at $15 plus fees.