Sometime in the span of the last seven days, Hutson Collins had a purple “C” stitched onto his white sweater, signifying his captainship of the Eau Claire Memorial boys hockey team.
The scrappy hybrid forward took it to heart on Tuesday night, his first game in his newly minted leadership position.
Collins scored 59 seconds into the game and never stopped, finding the back of the net directly or indirectly in a variety of ways as he notched a hat trick plus an assist in the second-ranked Old Abes’ 5-1 win over Big Rivers foe Chippewa Falls at Hobbs Ice Center.
“He did basically every different way you could possibly score a point tonight,” Memorial coach Chris Tok said. “He was a mainstay. He was our captain.”
Always playing with his head up, Collins took a puck coast to coast in the first minute and scored on nearly an impossible angle below the left hashmarks to give Memorial an early lead.
He knew that would be especially important against the Cardinals, who beat the Old Abes in a December matchup a season ago by pouncing early. Collins and his teammates still remember.
“Last year we came out and we were down ... and it didn’t end well,” Collins said. “It was huge for us to come out and make a statement, and we did that tonight.”
That statement was basically what the prep hockey community knows well by now: Memorial is really good this winter.
The Old Abes, now 6-0, outshot the Cards 17-2 in the first period for a 2-0 lead. Collins rattled home a one-timer on a nifty feed from Brenden Olson in a short-handed 2-on-1 rush.
“You can’t go out and lay an egg in the first period against a team like this,” Cardinals coach Scott Parker said.
Chippewa Falls (4-2) created opportunities for itself in the second by drawing penalties. In fact, the Cardinals played about 3 minutes of the second period on a 5-on-3 advantage.
Problem is, Memorial has yet to allow a power-play goal. And the Old Abes finished off a remarkable effort on the penalty kill with a short-handed goal from Olson.
“I think guys boxed it up when they should box it up when the other team had possession,” Tok said. “When they didn’t, I think our guys did a good job of jumping on them. And that’s what we want to do is not just give them time to pass around.”
On offense, the Old Abes clearly emphasized getting the puck to the net, something Tok felt they failed to do enough in a 5-0 win over Wisconsin Rapids on Dec. 5, their last outing.
But they had plenty of redirect and rebound opportunities on Tuesday and fired effectively from the point. Chippewa Falls goalie Jaden Hoople stopped 46 of Memorial’s 51 shots.
Memorial added two more goals in the second as Collins stayed with a rebound and got one in on a second effort and then set up Austin Karnitz’ first varsity goal with a huge hit on the forecheck.
Bryce Elkin got the Cardinals on the board when he snuck one past Trevor Hudecek, who stopped 18 of 19 shots.
“I liked the way we battled back in the second and third,” Parker said. “We didn’t lay down.”
Collins stole the show on Tuesday night with his first varsity hat trick. But the stat most important to the new captain? Six-and-0.
“It’s always nice, but the bigger thing is we just got the win,” Collins said. “That’s what I’m happy about.”