A jovial smile greeted some familiar faces when camp started this past Monday.
While he spent just five games with the Stockton Heat, his impact was felt both on and off the ice, both as a player you could count on in big situations and as a person and leader off the ice, with an infectious personality that everyone gravitates to.
Defenseman Colby Robak is back in a Heat sweater for the first time since October 30, 2016 after starting last season on a tryout and eventually signing a contract with the Utica Comets on November 2 after six games with the Heat.
“It’s kind of like deja vu… like I never left,” Robak said with a smile and a laugh. “When my agent told me we’re going to come back here and give it a go I was excited. Knowing some of the boys, you feel a little more comfortable and settling in is easier, so it’s been great so far.”
Robak made an immediate impact with the Heat, recording an assist in each of his first 5 games with the Heat which has put him in the history books along with Linden Vey as the longest assist streaks in Heat history.
In his sixth game with the team last year, Robak was held without a point for the first time in his Heat career. However, he’d be changing his red sweater for a blue one as the Comets brought Robak in for the rest of the season to provide a veteran presence on the back end. In 64 games with Utica, Robak recorded 3 goals and 28 points, bringing his season total to 33 points in 70 games, good enough for his second best statistical season since his sophomore season back in 2011-12 with the San Antonio Rampage.
“[Last year] was one of the best seasons I’ve had in a long time,” Robak said. “Obviously there was a bit of jumping around but in the end you’re playing hockey regardless of where you play, so you show up to the rink, work, and you play.”
Now Robak is trying once again to play himself onto the roster and looking to earn an AHL contract instead of a pro tryout contract that he found himself on with the Heat to start last season. With the Heat defenseman looking extremely young with faces like Oliver Kylington, Josh Healey, Adam Ollas Mattsson and Kayle Doetzel returning to the team, it leaves a spot for someone like Robak to come in and fill a role as not only a top defenseman, but as a teacher and mentor, something he views as critical to his chances of making the team.
“I think I have to be a leader, go out there and help improve the young guys,” Robak said. “Being in this league as long as I have, it’s a development league, so being able to push them to be their best will ultimately help me be at my best.”
Robak has begun the process of trying to impress the coaching staff and management through his time at both the Flames Camp and now in Stockton, but has potentially two preseason games this week to cement their minds that he’s the right fit for the team. While his pedigree as an NHL caliber player, Through both practice and the upcoming games, Robak knows that his window to make another good impression is limited.
“There’s always that pressure yes,” Robak said, “but in the end you’re playing hockey.”
Even though the pressure mounts for veteran players without a contract this time a year, it never seems to phase him. Perhaps his life changing 2016-17 season had a little something to do with that, not because of the way his season unfolded at the beginning with the Heat and Comets, but because in Utica he became a father for the first time to son Cayson who’s now seven months old.
“Another year older on the ice, and a dad off the ice which is the best,” Robak said. “It’s an amazing experience being a dad. I just can’t believe guys used to do this without Facetime!”