GRAND RAPIDS, MI –Grand Rapids Griffins goalie Tom McCollum, who last played hockey outside as a bundled up 12-year-old, is prepared to look the part for the Hockeytown Winter Festival.
McCollum has a goalie mask that includes a nod to the franchise’s first outdoor game, scheduled Dec. 30 when the Griffins take on the Toronto Marlies at Comerica Park.
The inscription “Hockeytown Winter Festival” was designed on the left side of the mask, just below the Griffins’ insignia. In the background is Comerica Park and the Detroit skyline. It was painted by Jason Livery from Headstrong Graphix near St. Louis, off an idea from Griffins equipment manager Brad Thompson.
“Brad came up with all the ideas and I liked pretty much all of them,” McCollum said of the mask, delivered in mid-November. “It was all his doing.”
“I was at the park (Comerica) in the summer, sitting behind the dugout and it just sort of hit me,” Thompson said of the idea. “I took a photo off my iPhone, sent it to Jason and said, ‘Hey, this has to be part of it.’”
McCollum, 24, has enjoyed the results, with an 11-4-0 record and 2.17 goals against average and .927 save percentage. He has won four of his past five, including a shutout against Milwaukee on Dec. 14, in the absence of Petr Mrazek, currently in Detroit serving as the backup to Jonas Gustavsson with Jimmy Howard on the shelf.
“Definitely, it has worked well so far, and I’m definitely not disappointed in it,” he said.
McCollum, who was born in Sanborn, N.Y., started skating about age 4. He recalled he had just started to play goalie about age 12 when he last played outdoors.
To prepare for an outdoor AHL game, McCollum will reply on past NHL games watched on TV.
“I know from watching the games, they talk a lot about the glare and, obviously, the weather conditions will weigh on your mind a bit, too,” he said.
Once the game begins, however, he expects to settle in.
“There may be a little awe that, ‘Hey, we’re playing hockey in the middle of a baseball field,’” he said, “but once we get going and the guys lay a few bodies on and get a few shots on, it will just be like any other hockey game where we’re out there battling for the two points.”
The Griffins play at Milwaukee on Thursday and at Rockford on Friday and won’t get a chance to practice outdoors until Sunday, when a light skate is planned the night before the game.
They also have a morning skate planned before the 5 p.m. puck drop on Dec. 30.
“That doesn’t really bother me,” McCollum said. “We could practice on a cold, sunny day and, with our weather, you could play in a snow storm. We’ll both have the same conditions, whatever they are.”