Any athlete will tell you that some of the best times they had playing their sport didn’t come from a game winning play or a championship trophy. Sure those are pretty exciting (I’ve got a few of each under my belt), but nothing beats the friendships and bonds that you establish with your teammates and coaches, as well as the lessons that you learn that you can attribute to your everyday life. I’ve tried just about every sport there is to play (besides tennis) and can honestly state that there’s no greater sport than the game of hockey. Not only did the game itself play a very important role in my life, but the people that I’ve gotten to know and respect became lifelong friends who share the common bond for the love of hockey. Where did this all begin? Cue the Wayne’s World flashback.
It’s A Family Thing
Growing up, I was blessed with having a huge family. Besides my little bro, I had a good amount of cousins that were roughly around the same age. The one sport that they all played was ice hockey. By default, I got into hockey as well. I can’t remember it, but my dad told me that when I was 3 he kept me up to watch the New York Rangers win the Stanley Cup in 94’, which would eventually turn into my love for the Broadway Blueshirts later in life. We’re a strictly Rangers family, so again, I don’t think I had a choice (although one of my cousins likes the Red Wings, so be it). I learned to skate not too long after I was able to walk, and the ice became my sanctuary.
I think that one of the best things about hockey was the fact that I got to play on teams with my younger brother. My brother and I are very close, so having him on my teams was another way of bringing us closer. Not only that, but it gave me a reason to defend him if anyone ever messed with him, which was one part of hockey I enjoyed thoroughly. We would play street hockey to practice our fundamentals, teach each other different moves and strategies, and just shared our love for hockey with each other. Just another one of the things that I can thank hockey for; keeping my brother and I as close as we are.
Love at First Snipe
The earliest memory I have of me playing hockey is when I was probably around 5 or 6, playing in a mini mite league where we scrimmaged half ice games. I remember my first goal; came down the right side of the ice, faked the goalie out and scored. I didn’t know how to stop completely, so I used the post as my breaks (didn’t feel so good, but scoring the goal covered the pain). The thrill of scoring in hockey trumped winning hide-and-go-seek game or beating someone in Connect Four. To be honest, I fell in love with the game. Not only would the game change my life, but the people that I’ve played with and against became an essential part as well.
I’ll never forget my first travel team: Mite A, Stamford Sharks. My friends Zach, Jake and I were the shortest kids on the team, but the most fearless ones on the team. We got the nickname “The Mini Men” because of our size, but don’t let it fool you. We were quick, relentless, and if you were taller than us we were annoying. The next year would be one of the most successful teams that Stamford Youth Hockey and I ever had. Our Squirt A team won the Division 2 Championship 5-3, after being down 3-0 with five minutes left in the final period. We scored 5 unanswered, and went to the regionals. We ended up coming in second place, but just the journey we took as team was enough to consider it a win in my book.
Terry Connors was my home away from home, whether it was 5AM house practices or the annual Stamford Shark Holiday Tournament where we got to come out of the mouth of a wooden shark. I remember playing butt’s up against the skate rental booth or street hockey in the side entrance of the rink. Getting breakfast at Joey’s by the Shore which later became DiMare’s Rinkside when we got to high school, and eventually working there. I know how every single board in that rink makes the puck bounce off of it. The colors of the locker rooms changed at least 4 times since I’ve been skating there. The one thing that didn’t change was the way the rink made me forget about all my problems whenever I stepped on the ice. To sum it up: Terry Connors was my cathedral, and I was a lifelong participant of the services they held there.
I’d eventually play high school hockey for Westhill all four years in high school. Seeing as most of the people on the team I’ve played with since we were younger, it was like the only thing that was different was the jerseys. The bus rides, the locker room banter, pasta parties, the jamborees, and all the mischief and fun we got ourselves into I wouldn’t trade for ANYTHING. We won our fair share of city titles, had one of the most successful seasons my freshmen year (15-5), and had some of the best talent that Stamford had to offer at the time, and I was there for all of it front and center. Westhill hockey helped shape me into the man I am today, and I’m forever grateful for the experience.
From having our parents come in and tie our skates to having our families on the ice for our senior night in high school, the hockey life is one that I’ll never EVER forget. I went on to go to Eastern Connecticut State University where originally they didn’t have any type of hockey team, and that needed to change. Once I found out that there were a few guys on campus who felt the same way, we got together and established Eastern Connecticut State University Club Ice Hockey. Our first season, we skated at Bolton Ice Rink for cheap ice time, and had two scrimmages against two men’s league teams where the average age was over 30. Recently, the Eastern Connecticut State University club hockey team claimed the title of American Conference champions of the Northeast Collegiate Hockey Association (NECHA) on Feb. 21 with a 4-2 victory over Southern New Hampshire University. That means so much to me, as well as anyone who had a hand in putting this team together. What’s next? Maybe I’ll be coaching a youth hockey team in the future, and hopefully one day can bounce my baby boy on my knee while we watch the Rangers win the Stanley Cup. Regardless, hockey is life.