Atkinson Goes Pro After Three Productive Seasons As An Eagle
Published: Monday, March 28, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
Sometimes you hear about the superstar athlete that came out of nowhere. Playing that sport was never really the plan, but more of something that he stumbled upon and found success in. While these upstart stories are inspirational and fascinating, Boston College forward Cam Atkinson took a very different approach to stardom.
Hockey is in his blood. It was never a question of if he would play hockey, but more of when.
The question was answered very early on. Atkinson's father grew up surrounded by hockey in Vancouver and it didn't take long before the Atkinson boys were outside, learning how to skate.
"When people ask my parents about it, they say I started rollerblading before I could walk," Atkinson said.
Atkinson could have been recruited to play lacrosse coming out of high school as well. However, hockey was always in the forefront of his mind. Growing up with older brothers and a father who loved hockey, Atkinson goes as far as to say he was destined to play the sport. Destiny or not, it appears safe to say that Atkinson has found his niche and it's working out for him.
"When I started skating, it felt like it was the right thing to do," he said. "It came naturally and easy for me. It's been going well ever since."
To say that it's been going well is quite the understatement. Atkinson led the Eagles with 30 goals this year and was recently named as one of 10 finalists for college hockey's most prestigious trophy, the Hobey Baker Award. Despite his individual accomplishments and honors, Atkinson stayed selfless and team-oriented.
"It's definitely an honor to be [a Hobey Baker finalist], but I'm not focused on that at all," he said. "Winning banners is why you play the game."
The Eagles quest for back-to-back national championships ended suddenly as Colorado College shocked BC, 8-4, in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Atkinson announced on Sunday afternoon that he was leaving school early to make a run to the NHL. The Columbus Blue Jackets selected Atkinson in the sixth round of the 2008 NHL draft, and he has been assigned to their AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons, after signing a two-year, entry-level contract.
"I came to the decision today," Atkinson said in an interview with The Heights yesterday. "It's always been in the back of my mind. I talked it over with my family. They're the most important people to me and we felt this was the right decision to make."
Atkinson said he will be leaving school today to begin practice with the team in western Massachusetts in preparation for Friday's home game against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. That doesn't mean he's done studying at BC, though.
"Getting a degree is my No. 1 goal," he said. "I've talked to my professors, and they're going to allow me to complete the semester from Springfield. I made sure in my contract to get the rest of my education paid for. I'll be back at BC taking classes this summer. I should be able to complete my degree in two-to-three summers."
"We want to wish Cam the very best with his decision to pursue his hockey career with the Blue Jackets organization," head coach Jerry York said in a statement. "He has been an impact player during the course of his three years at Boston College and we wish him good luck at the professional level."
Small Frame, Big Game
While skating and skills may have come easily to him, Atkinson does have a difficult obstacle to overcome. Listed at only 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds, he never had the physical strength or power to overwhelm his opponents. Instead, Atkinson worked on polishing techniques and maximizing speed. By modeling his game after small, dynamic players such as Brian Gionta, BC '01, and Martin St. Louis, Atkinson has become one of the most feared scorers in the country.
"I definitely look up to those smaller guys that are making it when no one said they could," Atkinson said of his role models growing up.
While BC boasts plenty of incredibly talented players, Atkinson points to chemistry and experience as the primary reasons for success.
"You want to be part of a team, that's why people play sports," Atkinson said. "We're all like best friends, and it's a small family. Chemistry is huge, it makes it enjoyable to come to the rink to get better everyday with the rest of the guys."
Atkinson puts on unbelievable displays of athleticism on the ice, yet he remains a normal college student.
"I'd definitely be trying to play another sport if not for hockey, but just hanging out with the guys is great too," he said.
Everyone gets nervous or anxious before a big event, and Atkinson is no different.
"I'm not superstitious, but I make sure to listen to ‘Breaking the Habit' by Linkin Park before every game," he said. "It helps get me focused. Once you get onto the ice and hear the fans getting into it, that really gets us going."
Most people have experienced moments of extreme pressure. Typically during a situation such as finals week, students struggle to perform optimally with the added stress. The ability to cope with such outstanding pressure is what separates a good player from a great player. Some players are overwhelmed by the big moment and some players embrace it. The latter describes Atkinson.
Whether he's netting a regular season goal against UMass or launching the go-ahead goal in the waning minutes of the Hockey East championship game versus Merrimack, Atkinson remains undeterred.
"It's obviously exciting to play on bigger stages like the TD Garden or in St. Paul, but you can't let it get to you," he said. "I view it as just another [game], just play your game, keep it simple, and have fun."
That's often easier said than done. The unique ability to balance composure and intensity with so much on the line, in front of thousands of screaming fans, is what earns a player the reputation of being clutch. As Dick Vitale would say, he's a "prime-time player." Atkinson has certainly earned that reputation.