ROBBINSVILLE, NJ -- Traditionally, hockey fandom in Robbinsville is split between the Philadelphia Flyers and the New Jersey Devils, with a couple New York Rangers fans here and there. Now, there is another team to add to the mix: the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Robbinsville native and former Mercer Chiefs assistant coach Ross Colton, a 24-year-old center, finished the 2021 season with nine goals and two assists in the thirty games he played with the Lightning.
So far in the Stanley Cup playoffs Ross has two goals and one assist as the Lightning look to win back to back Stanley Cups.
Ross had a long journey to the NHL, a journey that began in Robbinsville.
Robbinsville Makes, the NHL Takes
“Ross is an extremely competitive, funny, and humble guy.” said Evan Pie, Ross’ best friend of ten years. The two met on the Hamilton A’s little league team. Evan played second base while Ross played third base.
Ross’ competitiveness and drive has played a part in getting to the NHL because as Evan says “There’s not a lot of players that come from our area”.
On September 11, 1996 Ross Colton was welcomed into the world by Kelly and Kevin Colton. Kelly is a nurse and Rob is a middle school history teacher. Ross has an older brother Rob who he got to play hockey with at Princeton Day School.
Growing up in Robbinsville, Ross enjoyed fishing, rooting for the New York Giants, playing sports, and hanging out at the Quaker Bridge Mall with his friends. Ross’ biggest passion growing up was hockey. His parents didn’t have a hockey background, but that didn’t stop Ross from falling in love with the sport.
Ross grew up a fan of the New Jersey Devils, Zach Parise was his favorite player growing up. “He wasn’t the biggest player, but he was the fastest,” Ross said about Parise.
Even though Ross was a Devils fan it was the former Flyers minor league affiliate Trenton Titans that got him into hockey.
“We had season tickets to the Titans growing up and those games got me into hockey.” said Ross.
Little did he know that former Trenton Titan star Scott Bertoli would later be his coach at Princeton Day School. “It was definitely a cool experience to have a guy that you rooted for as a kid be your head coach.’’ Colton said of Bertoli.
Ross Colton’s hockey career began with the Mercer Chiefs. The Chiefs are a youth hockey organization that plays out of Ice Land Skating Rink in Hamilton Township. During his time with the Chiefs he met the man who would become his biggest influence, Mercer Chiefs Head Coach Chris Barcless.
“Ross was always at the top end, good kid, humble, and would make the players around him better” said Coach Barcless about Ross Colton.
Ross still comes home and skates every summer with Coach Barcless, and Ross is also involved with the Mercer Chiefs.
With the start of the NHL season delayed due to COVID-19 Ross returned to Robbinsville and served as an assistant coach along with his brother for the Chiefs.
Rob Broderick, General Manager of the Chiefs couldn’t say enough good things about Ross’ time coaching the program “The players really related to Coach Colton, they see their dream in Ross”. During his time coaching the Chiefs, Ross never missed a practice and never missed a game.
Even though Ross is retired from coaching, he views that retirement as temporary and would love to coach hockey after his NHL career is over.
After his time with the Mercer Chiefs, Ross moved on to Princeton Day School to play with his brother Rob.
Ross spent the first two years of his high school career playing at Princeton Day School with his big brother. Rob said that playing with his brother at PDS was “his favorite part of hockey”. Ross made the Varsity team as a Freshman and stood out to Bertoli.
When asked about his time with Ross, Bertoli responded that "Ross had a tremendous skill set, he was willing to work and he had a joy and passion for the game." Bertoli was also impressed with Ross’ ability to play all three zones, and his confidence with shooting the puck.
After Princeton Day School, Ross transferred to Taft, a boarding school in Connecticut, he then finished his High School career at Cedar Rapids Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
He went to Iowa to play for the Cedar Rapids Roughriders in the United States Hockey League, a top junior league sponsored by USA Hockey. He was the Cedar Rapids Roughriders leading goal scorer.
Ross said it was “challenging” leaving his friends in Mercer County behind, but he met great host families in Iowa that made him feel at home.
In 2016, he was drafted in the fourth round by the Tampa Bay Lightning, but before reporting to the Lightning he attended the University of Vermont for two years.
Former University of Vermont hockey coach Kevin Sneddon knew he was only going to have Ross for a short amount of time and made the most of his time with the Robbinsville native.
"He pushed his teammates hard and always wanted team success over his own personal success," Sneddon said. "Though we were disappointed to lose Ross after his second year, we knew that was a distinct possibility given how well he had performed in college”.
After Vermont, Ross spent two and a half seasons with the Syracuse Crunch, the top minor league team for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Ross recorded twenty-five goals in his time with the Crunch.
This past February he received the call that minor league players all want to receive. Ross Colton of Robbinsville was going to the big leagues.
The First Game
Ross got a phone call from the General Manager of the Syracuse Crunch. Before he answered his phone he had a feeling what the call was going to be about. He was going to the big leagues and next thing you know he was on a private jet to Tampa, FL to join the Lightning.
He didn’t immediately play with the Lightning, but when he found out he was playing in his first game he immediately let his family and friends in the Garden State know.
“The game was on Thursday, and on Wednesday afternoon we were on a flight from Trenton to Tampa” said Rob. Ross’ parents, brother, grandmom, and childhood friends made the trip to the Sunshine State to watch Ross play. Back in the Garden State, Ross’ former coaches were having a watch party for him at Buffalo Wild Wings.
The first moment that Ross knew he made it in the NHL was when he heard that national anthem, that would be the first moment of surrealness for Ross, and his family and friends that night.
Ross’ did what few NHLers did on their first shot in the big leagues, he scored a goal.
“Every hair stood up on my body, and I got goosebumps” Pie said watching his best friend and former teammate score his first goal in the NHL.
Ross would go on and score eight more goals during his thirty-one games in the regular season with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Lightning qualified for the NHL Playoffs and Ross is playing a part in making sure that his team wins the Stanley Cup.
The Playoffs and More
So far in the Stanley Cup playoffs Ross has two goals, and is making an impact with the Lightning.
Even though Ross is 1,077 miles away from Robbinsville he doesn’t forget where he comes from.
When asked about Robbinsville, Ross said “It’s awesome. I still keep in touch with my friends there and my middle school teachers. I’m always excited to come back”.
The advice that Ross gives for aspiring hockey players in Robbinsville is that “It doesn’t matter where you’re from, if you put in the work you’ll get to where you need to be”.
Even in a town full of Devils and Flyers fans, there are people pulling for the man Mercer Chiefs players call Coach Colton to succeed with the Lightning.
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