Higgins credits college as key to his success
Christopher Higgins credits college as key to his success Yale University Bob Snow On Campus NCAA profile
Ken Dryden is the Eastern College Athletic Conference's most accomplished hockey alum, considering his record between the pipes at Cornell in the late 1960s -- he led Big Red to national championships in 1967 and '69 -- and his six Stanley Cups with Montreal from 1971-79.
However, of the league's 592 NHL draft picks since 1964, only four have been selected in the first round; Dryden was taken by Boston in the third round in 1964.
When Montreal chose Yale's Christopher Higgins at No. 14 in the 2002 Entry Draft, it marked the first time an NHL team had spent a first-round pick on an ECAC player in 19 years -- since Buffalo took Normand Lacombe No. 10 out of New Hampshire when it was a member school.
Higgins was the 2002 ECAC Rookie of the Year and 2003 Co-Player of the Year (with Cornell goaltender David LeNeveu). Higgins also led the league in goals during his second -- and final -- season in New Haven, Conn.
Prior to Yale, where he racked up 72 points in 55 games, he wore out a few goal lights at the prestigious New England prep school Avon Old Farms, where he had 75 points in 54 games.
"When I was at Avon Old Farms," said Higgins, "Yale was the first team to approach me for a scholarship. I pretty much narrowed it down to Harvard, B.C. and Yale. It probably came down to the coaching staff and the overall feel for the school that put it over the edge.
"I just wanted to be able to fall back on my education in case anything didn't work out, and Yale definitely had that. I always had a good feel for them."
He's also had a good feel for opposing NHL nets, with 77 goals and 60 assists in 245 games for the Canadiens since 2005-06.
"I never really thought of playing in the NHL until I got drafted in the first round after my first year," said Higgins, whose speed and barrel-chested 203-pound physique on a 6-foot frame define power forward. "Even when I was playing that first year in college, I really didn't think I could make it, so it's a credit to the school and coaching staff.
"I definitely matured my two years there. It was definitely the best two years I could have spent in college. I met a lot of great people there and with a great coaching staff, it was phenomenal. I give all that credit to them to making me a better player."
Higgins' college resume lacks the big games. He didn't win a national championship and never got to play in an NCAA tournament game.
"Obviously my first college game and first college goal, you'll always remember," he said. "And especially all the Harvard-Yale games were a lot of fun. It seemed a lot easier to get up for those games. I'll remember those games more than anything."
Higgins also remembers the learning curve going from prep school to Yale to the Canadiens.
"I think my maturity on and off the ice is the strongest link from college to success at this (NHL) level," said Higgins. "Especially for me, with such a big amount of improvement in just those two years, it was the first time getting a lot of exposure, and I had to transform just as quickly from a college player to a professional player, even while still in college."
While powerhouses in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association or Hockey East may send more players to the NHL than the ECAC, Higgins dismisses such numbers as irrelevant when choosing a college.
"Yale was never an obstacle to getting to the pros," he said. "If you're a good enough player, they'll find you anywhere. You play against some of the top teams in college hockey, so the scouts will see you. I don't understand why kids think they have to go to B.C. and North Dakota and Michigan and all these top-notch hockey programs to make it. They'll find you anywhere if you're good enough."
He complemented those comments with candid advice about the decision many college players face.
"I had to leave after two years, even though I had a lot of regrets leaving," said Higgins. "To be honest, if you're not a first-round draft pick, stay in school."