With Debut for NHL’s Blue Jackets Under His Belt, PU Grad Robinson Fired Up for Training Camp
BLUE CHIP: Eric Robinson heads up the ice as he made his NHL debut for the Columbus Blue Jackets this past April. Former Princeton University men’s hockey star Robinson, who helped the Tigers win the ECAC Hockey title this winter in his final season with the program, is now preparing for training camp as he looks to make the Blue Jackets. The team starts training camp next month with its first preseason game slated for September 17 against Buffalo.(Photo by John Russell, Courtesy of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)
By Bill Alden
Eric Robinson didn’t have much time to dwell on the disappointment of seeing his career with the Princeton University men’s hockey team end with a 4-2 loss to Ohio State in the NCAA tournament.
Two days after the defeat on March 24 in the first round of the national tourney, star forward Robinson followed the Buckeyes to Ohio as he signed a contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets of the NHL and joined the pro team on Monday.
“It was a whirlwind for sure; it was mostly my agent doing the work,” said Robinson, a 6’2, 200-pound native of Bellmawr, N.J.
“My agent texted me that night after the Ohio State game, congratulating me for the year, telling me to spend time with my teammates and that we will talk tomorrow.We talked about different options and basically by Sunday night we had some different offers and we were analyzing them and on Monday, we made the decision to go with Columbus. Two hours later, I was on a flight out to Columbus. It all took 48 hours.”
Upon arriving in Columbus, Robinson trained with the team for two weeks and then made his NHL debut, starting in the regular season finale as the Blue Jackets fell 4-2 to Nashville on April 7.
Taking the ice that night, Robinson got to soak in the scene. “For warmups in your first game, they usually let you take a lap or two by yourself,” said Robinson. “It was pretty cool to be a part of that and take a lap around and take things in for a second.”
Once the game started, Robinson tried to take his mind off the jitters he was experiencing.
“I was definitely nervous, I was trying to remember things people told me, like it is still hockey, you are there for a reason, you are not out of place so just play your game,” said Robinson. “In a couple of shifts, it will just become more natural. I was trying to tell myself those things to stay calm and make sure that I didn’t get too jittery.”
Robinson got to start the contest and ended up playing 11:21, taking two shots.
“It is a much faster game, it is a lot cleaner,” said Robinson, reflecting in his debut. “Everyone is in the spot that they are supposed to be all the time, every pass is on the tape and hard. You don’t have any time at all when you get the puck; there is always going to be a guy right there on you. You have to make decisions quicker. Everything just happens so much faster.”
In Robinson’s view, getting to spend two weeks with the team and having a taste of NHL action will pay dividends as he looks ahead to the 2018-19 campaign.
“It definitely helps me a ton heading into the summer and training camp already having a game,” said Robinson. “It is not a ton of experience but enough to know what the game is like. You know what it takes.”
Robinson enjoyed a great experience at Princeton, helping the Tigers go from a combined 9-46-6 record in his first two seasons with the program to the ECACH championship and a 19-13-4 mark this winter.
Helping the Tigers top No. 2 Cornell 4-1 in the ECACH semis and then edge No. 10 Clarkson 2-1 in overtime in the title game will stand as two of the major highlights of Robinson’s time at Princeton.
“We played a couple of really good teams in Cornell and Clarkson; there were a couple of emotional roller-coasters,” said Robinson.
“Being able to come out with a conference championship in my senior year is incredible, especially where we came from my freshman year.”
In reflecting on the program’s progress, Robinson credits the efforts of Tiger head coach Ron Fogarty and his assistants.
“It is obvious to see with the work that our coaching staff put in since they got there,” said Robinson.
“We were the first class with them as well so we were making sure that as we got older, we were harping on the younger kids that were coming in to stick with the process, keep working on it, and keep doing everything the correct way, and things will get better. The group of guys stuck with it and the results obviously showed.”
Learning from the coaches and sticking with it helped Robinson develop into a pro prospect.
“I can’t thank the coaches at Princeton enough for helping me grow as a player; teaching me things that I didn’t know or I was doing wrong and using my assets to better me in every way possible,” said Robinson, who scored 31 points on 17 goals and 14 assists last winter and ended up with 67 points in his career on 39 goals and 27 assists.
After returning to Princeton for graduation, Robinson headed back to Ohio to work on bettering himself under the eye of the Blue Jackets.
“I actually moved to Columbus about five days after graduation so I could train with the staff there,” said Robinson.
“I think it is good to be out there and get to know everyone and be familiar with how they like to train and just learn every day there. I spent two weeks there and then I had development camp.”
At the development camp in late June, Robinson continued to deepen his ties to the organization.
“In my previous development camps, I was just a free agent invite; I wasn’t a part of the organization,” said Robinson.
“This time I was a signed member of the team and had experience with the team. I was much older than most of the camp. I took on more of a leadership role there compared to previous camps. The comfort level was huge; that two weeks with the team helped that because that experience is going to go so far.”
With the Columbus training camp starting in September and its first preseason game slated for September 17 against Buffalo, Robinson is looking to make a good impression as he battles to stay in the NHL.
“You can’t go into camp, saying I am content being sent to the American Hockey League,” said Robinson.
“Nothing is guaranteed; the league is so hard to play in. There are going to be so many good players at camp fighting for spots. You have got to get into the best shape that you can and make sure you are doing everything you possibly can do to make the team. As long as you do that, whatever happens from there, happens.”
Robinson, for his part, is confident that he has the ability to make things happen.
“I am just hoping that I do well enough that I will be in the mix,” said Robinson.
“I have to stick with what I can do. I think skating is one of my stronger assets, so I need to be able to use that as much as possible. I also need to minimize mistakes. In the NHL, you can’t make mistakes, everyone is a mistake-free player basically. That is something I will have to definitely focus on. One thing I can improve on is my physicality, so if I can add a little more grittiness to my game I think that will help me.”