Jackson Collard Commits to New England College
Worcester Railers Junior Hockey Club defenseman Jackson Collard has announced his commitment to New England College for the Fall of 2023. The Pilgrims are an NCAA Division 3 program competing within the New England Hockey Conference.
NEC first appeared on the blueliner’s radar back in January. Railers head coach Sean Bertoni had reached out to the school on his behalf. Collard was then invited on a tour.
“After my visit a couple months back, I applied and got in pretty quickly,” explained Collard, who was a member of an All Star Team that played in the EHL All-Star College Series earlier this year. “Recently, with playoffs coming up, I was deciding whether I wanted to make it official or not. So, I had my dad come up here, and he got to put his eyes on it and meet the coach. Having his input made me more comfortable with my decision.”
The Byron-Center Michigan native considered going to school closer to home, but decided to stay in the Northeast, believing that the competition “couldn’t beat it.”
“They (NEC) probably play in the best D3 conference in the country,” Collard said. “They’re always competitive. I really liked the coaching staff and felt comfortable around them.”
However, it wasn’t only hockey that sold the veteran defenseman.
Collard interacted mostly with NEC’s Graduate Assistant coach Fletcher Fineman, who showed him around campus and gave him a better understanding of the hockey program. He also spoke with head coach Tom Carroll.
“I could tell coach Carroll had sincere interest in me, and I really appreciated everything he and his staff did for me throughout the process,” he said.
Collard labeled it as a “big buildup” throughout the year leading up to his commitment. He recalls near-daily conversations with coach Bertoni, who was relentlessly communicating with schools for him.
Bertoni has sung his praises for Collard throughout the season, characterizing him as the ‘backbone of our defensive zone.’
“Jackson is a cerebral player that brings a high competitive spirit, toughness and grit to our back end,” Bertoni said. “He is a guy that keeps the game simple and leads by example. When I think of Jackson Collard, I think of the way he prepares to play. He is an excellent student on and off the ice. He dedicates himself to his teammates and is one of the most coachable players we have had in the Railers organization.”
“He was so instrumental in helping me be where I want to be right now,” Collard says of his coach. “I can’t thank him enough.”
Collard suited up for his first junior game in Canada, for a team in the CCHL. He made his way back to the states, first playing with the Seahawks Hockey Club of the EHL. Although he “learned a lot” in his stint there, it was not the right fit.
Enter the Railers. In Collard’s words, late General Manager Mike Addesa “took a chance on [him.]” He finished the 2021-2022 season with the Premier team, before becoming a top EHL defender this season.
“Immediately, everything was different,” Collard said when asked about his first impression of the Railers. “The way that the organization runs is so professional. It’s business-like but all the coaches really care. They’re always open to talk and we’re able to approach them with whatever problems we have.”
A defense-first defenseman, Collard believes it has been the “perfect fit.” with the Railers.
“They really have made me appreciate the small details of the game, which is naturally what I’m good at. It was a good fit right from the start,” he said.
Collard dabbled in college hockey this season, taking on both Nazareth College and SUNY Brockport’s Division 3 programs as part of that EHL All Star College Series. He was “a little bit surprised” upon finding out he was selected to represent the Railers.
“Usually things like that are about who has the most skill, and that’s not necessarily me. So I was really appreciative that my skill set was recognized,” the Railers blueliner said. “As far as the competition goes, it was an amazing experience. Everything is so much faster. The competition is so much stronger. It was eye-opening, I’d say. It was good for me to see where I’m at and where I need to be.”
Growing up in the Grand Rapids area, Collard skated for some local teams such as Fox Motors and Meijer. He played his high school hockey for Byron Center High, where he represented his hometown while playing in front of a community that packed the stands for every home game. “And I got to do it with my best friends,” he adds.
Collard first began playing hockey to follow in his father’s footsteps. His dad played both college and professional hockey. Family has always been a key piece to his hockey journey.
“They have done so much for me from day one. It’s special for me to reach this point. I’ve always had the goal of playing college hockey like my father did,” he said. “They’ve always told me that if I put in the effort, they’d do whatever they need to to support me. And they’ve truly meant it.”
Collard now has accomplished that goal, and is prepared for the challenge.
“It’s going to take a lot of work this summer, both in the gym and on the ice. I think I’m ready and I’m excited,” the defenseman said. “I’m looking forward to meeting the group of guys and meeting new people in general. The competitive schedule is also something that excites me.”
However, there is still something to check off his list in junior hockey.
“Now that it’s finally behind me, it’s a big relief. Having the uncertainty of next year taken care of, I can just look forward and focus on playoffs, which is the number one goal right now: winning a championship.”