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Seeking another highlight

Cohen hopes role opens with Bruins

Colby Cohen has been assigned to Providence after being acquired by the Bruins. Colby Cohen has been assigned to Providence after being acquired by the Bruins. (Gretchen Ertl for The Globe)
By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Globe Staff / January 5, 2011

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Colby Cohen made his name in Boston when he scored the overtime goal for Boston University against Miami University that resulted in the 2009 NCAA Division 1 men’s hockey championship.

On the highlight-reel tally, Cohen had the puck at the left point and fired at the net. The shot struck Miami defenseman Kevin Roeder, who dived to block it, then popped into the air and sailed over the left shoulder of goaltender Cody Reichard.

Cohen played one more season for the Terriers, and after his junior year, decided to move to the pros. He was one of three early defections for BU that season, along with Kevin Shattenkirk and Nick Bonino. Although things have worked out well for his former teammates — Shattenkirk is with the Avalanche, Bonino with the Ducks — Cohen is still finding his way.

The Avalanche, who drafted Cohen in the second round (after taking Shattenkirk in the first round) in 2007, traded him to the Bruins for Matt Hunwick on Nov. 29. Cohen, who was assigned to Providence, has yet to play with his new team because of a wrist injury. But he said he’s thrilled to be in the Boston fold. Now his goal is to make a name at the highest level.

“[The trade] was good news,’’ said Cohen, who played three games for Colorado and 14 in the AHL with Lake Erie. “I was a little confused about it for a second or two, and I thought of it on the positive side.

“What a great city and an unbelievable organization to be a part of. I’ve heard great things about Providence, you’ve got to put your time in and work hard.’’

Asked what made him expendable with the Avalanche, Cohen said he wasn’t sure.

“I’m young, and I don’t quite know the way it all works yet,’’ said the 21-year-old Cohen. “I’m learning quickly.

“Kevin Shattenkirk is doing absolutely fantastic. He’s my vote for Rookie of the Year in the NHL. They felt he was doing really well and they had some other guys they must be really happy with. I don’t know if they didn’t think I was going to pan out to what I should’ve or whether they thought they could get something better.’’

Supportive coach BU coach Jack Parker’s general philosophy is that if players are going to spend their time riding buses in the AHL, they’re better off staying in college. Cohen listened to what everyone had to say — family, coaches, etc. — before deciding it was time.

“At the end of the season, I talked to my family and Coach Parker and [associate head coach Mike] Bavis about it,’’ said Cohen. “It just felt like it was the right time for me.

“My junior season was a good one in college. My defense partner [Shattenkirk] was leaving, and Nick Bonino was leaving. Coach Parker was extremely supportive. It made it harder for me to decide because he was so supportive. He said a lot of things like ‘You can’t go wrong either way.’

“Obviously, they would’ve liked to have had me back, but he’s still supportive to this day.’’

The only pangs of longing he felt came earlier this season when BU and BC played each other. He attended the game at Conte Forum Dec. 4, when the Eagles beat the Terriers, 5-2.

“It’s one of those things where you want to do both,’’ said Cohen. “You want to play pro, and you love all the things that come with the professional ranks. But you miss college and you miss the relationships you had with the guys there and the relationships you had with the coaching staff. Jack Parker was extremely hard on me but he also was really matter-of-fact and fair.’’

Parker said Cohen was in a tough situation in Colorado because he and Shattenkirk are such similar players.

“I didn’t think it was great for them both to go to the same team,’’ said Parker. “As it turns out, they aren’t with the same team and I think that’s good now that Shatty has kind of established himself with Colorado and Colby is going to have to look elsewhere and he got the opportunity when the Bruins decided to trade for him.’’

If there’s pressure, Parker said, it has to do with the fact that the Bruins traded Hunwick to create cap space. But he thinks Cohen made the right call to leave BU.

“I think his development as a pro prospect was just about as far as it was going to go at BU,’’ said Parker. “He had to grow up a little bit while he was with us, and he’s done that.

“He had to realize what his capabilities are and what he’s got to work on, and I think he knows that. He’s got to be more consistent defensively. It’ll be interesting to see how he reacts to that.’’

Room to improve If the Avalanche are more wide open in terms of style, the Bruins are clearly a defense-first team.

“Colby’s never been that guy,’’ said Parker. “Colby’s been a very, very talented offensive defenseman who at times will fade in and out of his defensive commitment.

“When he wants to play defense, when he wants to be really solid in his own end, when he wants to be really good on the initial rush, he’s a very good player. He has to focus on that more often than he does his offensive stuff, which comes much easier to him.’’

Bruins assistant general manager Don Sweeney believes that Cohen, with hard work, can adapt.

“We identified areas of his game that we appreciated,’’ said Sweeney. “We liked his size and we liked his overall range. Certainly offensively, with the puck, [his ability] to make plays, and on the offensive side of the puck — the power play, [he has] a good shot to be able to get things through.

“We realized his game defensively was incomplete at this time. He’s going to need to continue to work on that and his foot speed and making things a little more fluid in that regard so he can get back and handle the pressure of the next levels. He’s a young player who has a lot of room for growth.’’

Sweeney said there is no set plan for prospects. If a player feels he has done all he can at the college level, Sweeney understands their need to move on, particularly if the player feels he has hit a plateau in his development.

“Clearly, Colby felt that was the case for him, that he was ready to move forward,’’ said Sweeney. “You have to be ready. There are a few guys who are able to make that jump, but other guys, they need another step along the way.

“Everything is situational — how much is he playing for his current team, what are the situations you see him playing in, his development on and off the ice, all areas where you may turn around and say, ‘He needs another challenge.’ We would support anyone who wants to stay in school and get the degree. It’s really an individual thing.’’

Cohen said whenever he gets discouraged, he watches his overtime goal and some other moments from that magical season.

“It’s been a while since I’ve watched it,’’ he said. “If I’m down about something, maybe I’ll go back and watch anything from that year. It was just a positive experience. That kind of stuff makes you smile.’’

With his days at BU behind him, Cohen is eager to prove what else he can do. Once he’s healthy, he’ll be ready.

“There are very few similarities [between college and the pros],’’ he said. “You’re on your own, it becomes a business here. It’s not like college. When you’re playing in a franchise, your job is on the line every night. It makes it all the more intense and interesting. It makes you grow up quick. Things change.’’

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at marrapese@globe.com.

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