Hockey Fun Again for Colton Hargrove
His quest for a hockey career finishes where it started -- Dallas
Colton Hargrove had always been focused on what’s ahead in his hockey career, where he wanted to go.
When he was playing high-school hockey at Rockwall and then at the midget level in Dallas, Hargrove was looking toward that next step – the U18 level – and what he needed to do to get there. When he reached the U18 in St. Louis, his focus became the next step – the USHL – and what he needed to do to get there. When he reached the Fargo Force, his focus became the next step – college hockey – and what he needed to do to get there.
When Hargrove reached Western Michigan University, his focus became the next step – professional hockey – and what he needed to do to get there. The Boston Bruins drafted Hargrove in the seventh round of the 2012 draft, which gave him that career path. Then his focus became the next step – the AHL – and what he needed to do to get there. When Hargrove reached the AHL with the Providence Bruins in 2015, his focus became the final step – the NHL – and what he needed to do to get there.
But that last step never materialized. Hargrove knocked around for four seasons in the AHL as a Bottom 6 forward, then decided to go play out his hockey career in Europe. He spent two seasons in Austria, then returned home to Dallas to get started on his real-estate career. Hargrove gave it his best shot but was through with hockey.
His mind had always always been on the future in his hockey quest, so Hargrove never took the time to savor the present. In hockey terms, he was “gripping the stick too tight” – conscious that any mistake he made might slow his quest to reach the next level.
But that’s what Hargrove is doing now – enjoying the present, playing in the ECHL for his “hometown” Allen Americans.
“I haven’t had this much fun playing hockey since probably before juniors,” Hargrove admitted the other day.
Not only is Hargrove having fun playing hockey for the first time in a long time – he’s playing the best hockey of his life. Despite appearing in only 50 games because of some back and groin issues, Hargrove ranks sixth in the ECHL in scoring with 33 goals and 33 assists. He leads the league with 14 power-play goals. This from a player who never scored more than 16 goals in a single season in any of his previous 12 years of hockey.
The ECHL is Double-A hockey filled with young, aspiring players. The AHL is Triple-A – one step away from The Show. It’s the dream of every ECHL player to get that call up from an AHL team to take that next step in his career.
Well, not every ECHL player.
Hargrove’s play in the ECHL attracted the attention of his old AHL team, the Providence Bruins. They contacted the Americans and wanted to call Hargrove up in February. But Hargrove turned them down.
“They said it would be for a couple weeks,” Hargrove said, “and I thought, at this point, we’re still fighting for a playoff spot down here…going up there and spending two weeks as a fill-in…that’s not what I’m about any more. I’ll play here and have fun. I like this team. That’s why I wanted to stay.”
In his mind, Hargrove was through with hockey after his second season in Austria. He sat out the 2021-22 season but decided to play in the inaugural 3Ice competition last summer – a wide-open, three-on-three concept with no checking. Essentially, beer-league hockey with top-shelf offensive talent.
Chad Costello, a three-time ECHL scoring champion and two-time MVP who had recently been named coach of the Americans, also participated in the 3Ice. They bumped into each other at the Dallas airport that first weekend and started travelling together every weekend for the duration of tournament.
When Costello saw Hargrove’s talent level, he took his coaching hat off and put on his GM hat.
“I recognized right away that his game would translate to a real hockey game,” Costello said. “Actually, it translates better than in 3Ice. The way he would protect the puck. No one could get it away from him for minutes on end. He’d keep circling and circling. I knew he’d be a force in this league.
“So I kept hinting to him about coming back, asking him what jersey number he wanted. Just joking around. Finally I said, `We want you to play.’ He said he’s been really thinking about it. 3Ice made him realize he wanted to play another season.”
Hargrove still has to deal daily with a wonky back and his comeback hit a snag when he suffered a groin injury on the first day of training camp. The Americans struggled early and so did Hargrove. Through the first 16 games, Allen was 5-10-1 with Hargrove contributing just four goals and eight assists. So after an 8-2 defeat to Rapid City on Dec. 3, Costello sidelined Hargrove for six games to give his groin a chance to heal.
And the losing continued. The Americans dropped five of the seven games without Hargrove and fell to the bottom of the ECHL’s Mountain Division with a 7-15-1 record.
But a healed Hargrove has made all the difference in the world for the Americans. He returned on Dec. 22 and in the 33 games the Americans have played since then, Hargrove has 29 goals and 25 assists. Allen has won 21 of the games, including two featuring Hargrove hat tricks, to storm back into playoff contention.
During one stretch, Hargrove collected points in an ECHL-best 23 consecutive games. He was named ECHL Player of the Month for January on the strength of his 12 goals and eight assists in 13 games.
“Since he’s gotten healthy, I think he’s been the best all-around player in the league,” Costello said.
In February, Costello named Hargrove team captain.
“He’s wearing the C for a reason,” Costello said. “He’s big in the (locker) room, a big influence physically. He’s a leader. The guys tend to listen to him. He’s like a magnet – all the young players like to be around him and play like him.”
And the young players have started playing like him. Allen has three of the top six scorers in the ECHL and four of the Top 10. Hargrove’s linemate Hank Crone – another Dallas native, by the way – leads the ECHL in scoring with 80 points on 36 goals and 44 assists. They are joined on a line by another veteran, Colby McAuley, a mid-season arrival who has five goals and 13 assists in 22 games.
Hargrove scored his previous career-best of 16 goals in a season three times — for Fargo as a 19-year-old, Providence as a 25-year-old and Fehervar in the Austrian League at 28 years of age. Now this, at age 30.
“I’m a late bloomer,” Hargrove mused. “Having linemates than can get you the puck and then can get open when you have the puck… A lot of it comes from not squeezing my stick too tight, not trying to get to the next level. I’m just here having fun, playing my game. I’m actually enjoying hockey again and life in general. Playing that Bottom 6 role in the American League…it’s tough. But coming here, being on a top line with good players … I’ve fallen in love with the game again.”
So the real estate career remains on hold for now – and maybe for a few more years.
“This is my final stop,” Hargrove said. “I was always looking higher, aiming higher. But as I get older, your body breaks down a little bit. Now being at home and having Costello as the head coach… I love it here.”