By Doug Kennedy
Kurt Colling grew up in Huron Township on the family farm. He was a talented, industrious young hockey player who started in Ripley minor hockey and eventually joined the AAA Huron-Perth Lakers minor bantam team.
After a couple of successful seasons, he was selected in the fourth round of the Ontario Hockey League draft by the Sudbury Wolves, but decided to join the Stratford Cullitons as a 16-year-old. Colling was the renowned Junior B franchise’s rookie of the year in 2001-02, and then won back-to-back Sutherland Cups (the OHA’s junior championship) with Stratford in 2002-03 and 2003-04. One of his coaches in Stratford was the Culleton’s’ current GM, Phil Westman, who credits Colling with being an impact player on both of those title teams.
“Kurt was the strong, silent type who played an old-style game on the wing,” Westman told me over the phone recently. “He brought an honest effort every night and instilled confidence in the coaches to play him in all situations.”
The forward’s willingness to pay a price was clearly reflected in the sixth game of one of those championship series against the Thorold Blackhawks, when the Cullitons were forced to kill a five-on-three disadvantage, late in the game.
“Kurt pinned the puck against the boards in the offensive zone,” Westman recalled. “Three Thorold players hammered, slashed and dug for their lives as Kurt took valuable seconds off the clock. Our bench and the Stratford fans went crazy watching his tireless effort.”
In that same series, Colling scored a highlight-reel goal against Blackhawks goaltender David Shantz, who a year later would lead the Mississauga Ice Dogs to the OHL Eastern Division championship, to clinch a Culliton’s win in Thorold.
For Colling, the three years in Stratford were the most enjoyable of his playing career.
“That first championship really stood out because we won it in game seven on home ice,” said Colling in an email sent from campus at Salisbury School in Connecticut, where he teaches. “We had good teams in Stratford, but the reason we won was because nobody cared who scored or got the credit. Those teams were the closest and best groups of people I ever got to play with.”
“Combine that with living in a great town, attending a great school and having really good billets, it all added up to an unbelievable time in Stratford.”
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute offered Colling a Division one hockey scholarship, after his third season in Stratford. The head hockey coach then, at the Troy, N.Y., school, Dan Fridgen, asked Colling to play a year in the highly touted British Columbia Hockey League to further his development. Colling put together a 20-goal, 49-point season with the Vernon Vipers, and then went to RPI for four years, playing for the Engineers while earning his degree in industrial and management engineering.
Colling came home after university, accepting a job at Bruce Power and playing hockey in his hometown for the Ripley Wolves, with Brent Armstrong as one of his coaches. Armstrong said he was a positive role model on and off the ice in his one season with the Wolves. He also said he was such a solid player in both ends of the rink, that he made his coaches look good. During that time, he decided that he wanted to pursue a career in teaching and coaching hockey, and returned to the U.S. to get his teaching degree at Castleton State College (now Castleton University) in Vermont. He started his prep school teaching/coaching career in 2012 at Hoosac School on the New York and Vermont border, and then spent one year at Vermont Academy as an assistant coach before being hired at Salisbury.
Today, Colling teaches chemistry at Salisbury, while also working as an assistant coach with one of the top prep school hockey programs in the U.S., and coaching robotics. He lives on campus with his wife Jade and their 13-month-old daughter Taliah.
Colling and the Crimson Knights celebrated in March the New England prep school crown, which The Hockey News called “The Last Champions of North America”. Salisbury capped a 24-3-1 season by winning the championship with a 4-0 shutout of Dexter, right before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down hockey across the continent. For the Crimson Knights, the title erased the bitter disappointment of losing to Kimball Union Academy the past two years in the championship game.
Life in rural Connecticut is good for Kurt, who loves the daily walks with Jade, Taliah and their dog Yuki, on Salisbury’s sprawling, picturesque campus. The Crimson Knights’ rink is 200 metres from his apartment and living in the dorm has allowed him to spend time with students outside of the classroom. The weeks during hockey season are busy, with classes from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., followed by a video session or gym work for the players. Practices take place between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m., and after dinner, it’s off to study hall from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays are game days.
While he’s settled into teaching and coaching, and has enjoyed working under long-time head coach Andrew Will for the past three seasons, Kurt doesn’t rule out pursuing a head coaching job at another school one day, or joining an NCAA program.
Colling and his wife have been communicating with their students virtually for more than a month now, through online learning. Like all of us, they hope the pandemic ends soon and look forward to seeing their students in person in the fall. This summer, Colling hopes to get home and spend some time with his mother Kim Colling, who is one of eight sisters, his stepfather Larry Hackett, sister Kara Kortegaard, her husband Kyle and their two children, his grandmothers Jean Colling and Joyce Farrell, and his many aunts, uncles and cousins.
And you can bet there will be some hockey talk on those weekend afternoons at the beach.