Colin Blackwell thought he might never play hockey again. That was the least of his problems.
Concussions forced the center to leave Harvard and miss the 2013-14 season. He couldn't go to class, let alone the rink. He recovered in time for the 2014-15 season – but he left the opener after having another setback. He sat out a few more months.
"That's why I come out here and kind of have a new mindset on hockey," Blackwell said Friday night. "Because it was taken away from me, you kind of play every game like it could be your last."
The go-for-it attitude paid off during his first appearance in a Sabres uniform. He scored two goals and was the unexpected highlight of Buffalo's 4-3 overtime loss to New Jersey in the Prospect Challenge. The free-agent invite opened eyes, which is a necessity when almost no one knows who you are.
"I'm grateful for the opportunity, and hopefully I can show my style of play and how I'm capable of playing out here," Blackwell said in HarborCenter. "I'm just coming here to kind of play my game and see what happens."
The 24-year-old is typically an energy guy. He's just 5-foot-9, but he likes to throw his 190 pounds around.
"I'm a little bit smaller than some of the guys out there," he said, "but I've got a big chip on my shoulder."
The Massachusetts native needs to provide energy because points can be rare. He clearly has skill, but last year he recorded just four goals and 11 points in 57 games for San Jose's affiliate in the American Hockey League. He totaled 19 goals and 58 points in 94 games with Harvard.
During his first two collegiate seasons, Blackwell's assistant coach was Jerry Forton. He is the Sabres' head of collegiate scouting and one of just two people who know much about Blackwell.
The other is Sabres prospect Sean Malone, who was one of Blackwell's linemates at Harvard. Malone was supposed to play in the tournament but got hurt. That prompted the Sabres to call Blackwell.
He answered in a big way.
"Opportunity came, so I felt like why not come show my stuff and see where it goes?" Blackwell said. "I've had some ups and downs in my career, but that's behind me. I'm excited. Every single year is a new year, and it's a fresh start, fresh faces.
"For me, kind of the sky's the limit."
The Sabres wanted to see what they had, so they gave Blackwell a prime spot in the middle of right wing Hudson Fasching and left wing C.J. Smith. Both spent time in Buffalo last year.
"I'd heard some good things about him, but you don't know until you play a game," said Rochester coach Chris Taylor, who is leading the prospects. "He really impressed me, and I'm really happy.
"It's good to see for him, but the next step is can he do it again tomorrow? That's what we're looking for is consistency."
Although Blackwell scored twice, including a go-ahead goal during the third period, the consistency was lacking. Like the rest of the Sabres, he had a forgettable first period.
"To be honest with you, that first period for me, I was awful," Blackwell said. "I know that. I know my game, and that's not really where it was.
"For me to kind of have that bad of a start and kind of build off that, it was a little bit of a relief."
The biggest relief would be earning a contract. Now that hockey is back in his life, he has no desire to let it slip away. He'll get another chance to impress Saturday when the Sabres host Boston at 7 p.m.
"Obviously, Rochester's a little bit closer to home than where I played last year in San Jose," Blackwell said. "It's exciting to come out here and kind of get a fresh start, play in front of some new eyes and kind of show my stuff. We'll see what happens."
Story topics: Colin Blackwell