Greenwich native Atkinson making the most of time in NHL

Greenwich native and Columbus Blue Jacket Cam Atkinson fires a shot at the net during a game this year against the New York Rangers at MSG. — John Ferris Robben photo

Greenwich native and Columbus Blue Jacket Cam Atkinson fires a shot at the net during a game this year against the New York Rangers at MSG. — John Ferris Robben photo

Although Cam Atkinson wishes his Columbus Blue Jackets were still alive and playing in the National Hockey League postseason, the Greenwich native and former Boston College standout still made his mark this season.

The Blue Jackets gave the Pittsburgh Penguins, the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference Metropolitan Division, all it could handle in the opening round of the NHL postseason. However it was the Penguins that came up with the 4-2 series victory.

Known for his lightning-quick shots and superb skating skills, Atkinson racked up several game-winning assists and goals for the Blue Jackets, a team that made its return to the NHL playoffs.

“Cam is someone who has the will as well as talent and he’s always been an unbelievably skilled player,” said Dave Maloney of Greenwich, a former New York Ranger captain and NHL Hall of Fame member. “He did all the right things and makes his mind up to make things happen.”

Player who kept his eyes on the prize

It is really no surprise that Atkinson wound up in this position, considering the odds he has faced coming up the line in regard to his physical stature. He stands at 5’08” and 165 pounds, a size that might be considered lesser compared to that of the majority of professional hockey players.

According to his mom, Ellen, during the time her son was growing up, the doctor would often tell her he ranked in the two-percentile group in terms of height and weight.

Rather than be deterred, however, Atkinson became more determined than ever to do everything in his power to make his childhood dream of playing professional hockey a reality.

“It was that attitude through every game, program and competition so he could prove he was good, regardless of his size,” said Ellen Robben Atkinson, proprietor and owner of the popular Magaschoni and Consigned Designs shops on Mason Street.

Maloney agreed.

“I think anybody who gets to this level of excellence, like Cam, has made it because they are good at what they do, have put in the time and have an inner drive,” said Maloney, a commentator for the Madison Square Garden network and coach at the Greenwich Skating Club during the time Atkinson had played there. “At this level, these guys are doing what they [had always] set out to do.”

Steady rise to hockey’s elite rung

Right from the outset, hockey seemed to be something that was in Atkinson’s blood.

The fourth of six boys, he started skating at age two and a half at the Dorothy Hamill Rink in town, where he would regularly attended public and open hockey sessions with his dad, Tom, a former semi-pro Canadian player, and older brothers, Steve and Tommy.

“They would do double sessions and just skate for hours,” said Ellen Atkinson. “They all had a great time together.”

A few years later, he started playing with the Greenwich Skating Club mini-mites under the tutelage of his dad, a reputable coach in the area, and seemed to be right in his element.

“Cam was a good kid who liked to skate all the time,” said Sergey Khomchenko, a coach in the Fairfield and Westchester counties and former member of the Belarus hockey team who had taught Atkinson. “He could stay out on the ice all day, no problem.”

At this stage, hockey had pretty much become a way of life for Atkinson, who on any almost any given day, could be found at a rink either playing a game or practicing.

Off the ice, Atkinson would spend much of his free time at the Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich playing floor hockey working on his shooting and stick handling skills.

“Cam has always had the will and that is everything,” said Maloney. “The will of an athlete is really underrated, it plays such a huge role in their success.”

Several years later, Atkinson joined the Mid-Fairfield league at the Darien Ice Rink, where he played alongside Jonathan Quick and Max Pacioretty, the two Connecticut-based 2014 Team USA and NHL players who originated from Hamden and New Canaan, respectively.

“It’s amazing to consider the number of guys, like Cam, who have come through programs in the Fairfield County leagues,” said Maloney. “It says a lot about the quality of the hockey here in the area.”

During his time at Mid-Fairfield, a reputable force in Fairfield County travel youth hockey, Atkinson had been coached by Marvin Minkler, someone who wound up being an influential role model in his life and with whom he still remains close today.

During this time, Atkinson, who attended Riverside Elementary School, Eastern Middle School and Greenwich High School, also played with the Connecticut Yankees, a triple-A (premiere) level youth-hockey travel organization.

As a freshman, Atkinson skated for Greenwich High School but then transferred the following year to Avon Old Farms in Avon, Connecticut, where he remained through graduation.

At Avon, Atkinson thrived under the tutelage of John Gardner and emerged as a central player in helping his team claim the New England Division One title three times, making him the only athlete at the school to have ever achieved such a feat.

There, he also played alongside his former Mid-Fairfield teammate, Quick, who is now a goaltender for the Los Angeles Kings.

In 2008, Atkinson started skating for the Boston College Eagles, a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division One team, and emerged as one of their premiere players.

In 2010, Atkinson helped the Eagles clinch the NCAA division one tournament title against Wisconsin, five to zero, and racked up the highest number of goals, 30, that same season.

“He has always stayed focused and is just very determined,” said Ellen Atkinson.

After three triumphant seasons with the Eagles, Atkinson joined the Springfield Falcons, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ American Hockey League top affiliate. In 2008, he had been selected by the franchise during the sixth round of the NHL draft to play for them.

By 2011, he was skating for the Blue Jackets, a team that became part the NHL back in 2000, and soon began draw attention for his energetic and aggressive skating style.

This past season, Atkinson locked himself in as one of the team’s essential players, racking up his best numbers to date, knocking in 21 goals and 19 assists during 79 total games.

“The Blue Jackets are a growing franchise that should do very well in coming seasons,” said Khomchenko, who also worked with Pacioretty as a young player. “They are talented and have players like Cam who keep getting better with every game.”

 A solid citizen

An amiable person reputed to be as committed to his family, friends and helping people as he is to his hockey, Atkinson has also emerged as an important role model.

In recent years, he has taken aggressive measures to help support numerous causes and organizations as a means to help give back.

For the past two summers, Atkinson has hosted the ‘Keep Hope Alive Festival’ for the Marty Lyons foundation in Greenwich and Stamford, respectively, to help raise money to grant wishes to children and teenagers ages three to 17 diagnosed with terminal or life-threatening illnesses.

At the same time, he also makes an effort to reach out to his fans.

In fact, two weeks ago, Atkinson had given nearly a dozen college students standing in line at the Columbus Nationwide Arena money to buy tickets for final first-round game against the Penguins, which they were thrilled over.

“Cam gets that he’s afforded an elite responsibility and wants to give back,” said Maloney. “If you can be an inspiration, you have to respect and embrace that.”

When all is said and done, however, the thing that seems to mean the most to Atkinson is being able to spend time with his family, a brood described by Maloney as ‘fantastic.’

Ultimately, Atkinson’s main objective seems to be to stay loyal to those things that helped him reach this level of success, including his support system, attitude of hard work and mindset of being true to his heart.

“It’s incredible that this is happening for him,” said Ellen Atkinson. “He is just doing what he loves to do and if I’ve learned anything through this, it’s that if the drive is there, it’s always going to be there.”

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