A Few Thoughts from Coach Kevin Cunningham
Updated: Feb 17
What a crazy couple of days. Sunday my team clinched the second seed in our division playoffs, so we had an optional practice Monday before I went to the Northford Ice Pavilion for the CIAC DII Opening Round tripleheader. The ride from my home to the rink was spent on the phone trying to finalize our playoff schedule for the coming week. By the time I got into the building Daniel Hand had built a 2-0 lead on Guilford. I spent the next hour plus trying to find any way to live tweet the game, but had no luck. Long before the Tigers had sealed their win in impressive fashion I had given up. I had tried WiFi, restarting my phone, moving to every conceivable part of the NIP; but to no avail.
So I was able to watch the game more closely once my accepted that I was not able to live tweet the game’s details. I marveled at Hand’s structured team play. Joey DeAngelis danced through traffic. Tatum Fitzmaurice was Johnny on the Spot for two goals and was a factor all game. Kevin Sandor was smooth and moved the puck extremely well. Eric Dillner was stingy in net. I respected the fight put forth by Jack Dacey and the rest of the Indians despite the long odds. Dacey valiantly battled to the end trying to find the net for the final time in his high school career. Steven Tortora played a strong two-way game. What I remember most about that game was the seventh goal. It might not mean much to some (and maybe less now given today’s events), but I was standing next to Kevin Rich’s father when his son’s shot rang in off the post as he captured the moment on his phone. The pride that father had in that moment struck me to my core. As a father myself, I know that feeling. As us parents know and others will hopefully learn when their time comes, nothing in the world even compares.
As the second game began it looked like David might slay Goliath in the NIP. South Windsor was fantastic in the first period as the built a 2-0 lead over Branford. William Bonazelli weaved his magic and tickled the twine. Sean O’Connor was force of nature with his size and speed. As the game shifted to the second period the Hornets found their game, chipped away and eventually took a lead they would not relinquish. I got familiar with Jared Yakimoff’s defensive zone face-off routine. I saw Zachary Jones make about as gorgeous a pass as I have ever seen to setup a goal. I enjoyed the snarl and skill that is the Brothers Manware (Jack and Max), as well as the speed and smarts of Spencer Engstrom. The conclusion of the game saw the Bobcat players honor their fans who made the trip from South Windsor, appreciating their fervor despite the outcome.
The nightcap was the best game of the night. Trumbull and North Haven went back and forth all game with the Indians riding the outstanding play of Andrew Sacco to the win. Watching his warmup, focus and attention to detail during the night left me very impressed. Donald Funaro was a man possessed on the defensive end. Aaron Racino and William Fiore are as fun to watch as any two players anywhere. Those dudes are skilled, speedy and fearless. And keep and eye on Owen Quick and Willam Sullivan; two freshmen who have the potential to be special players. I loved the Trumbull team as well. Marco Minopoli was a non-stop physical presence and the consummate team player. Jack Cullen could sidestep a rhino in a phone booth. The kid’s footwork and evasiveness are special. Owen Finnegan played a creative game with tons of energy. The Eagles should be proud of their year and their efforts Monday night.
As I headed home I was able to finalize our first round playoff schedule, which allowed me to plan our practice schedule for the week and get it to our team. I was exhausted when I arrived at home so I put the task of writing up the games until today. Then I saw Luke’s tweet right after our optional practice. There were two CTHSHockey alums in our locker room at the time: Branford legend Zachary Withington had joined us while on break from Albertus Magnus and former BBD backbone Alex Fernandes is one of our regular goalies. They both had the same reaction as so many of us; shock, sadness and disbelief. I texted my favorite current CTHSHockey player who was scheduled to start his senior season State Tournament today (he knows who he is...) and told him how sorry I was to see the news. I thought about the fact that I had not been able to tweet about the games and players and immediately felt awful about it. In a way I am glad though because I got the chance to really watch last night’s games and enjoy some of the details that I often miss trying to get the score posted as quickly as possible. All three games last night had their beautiful moments. All three had stories that were compelling for a multitude of reasons. I got to chat with an Amity player who was there watching his buddies play (awesome kid!). I did not think they would be my last three CTHSHockey games of the season, but I am glad that I got to them and got to experience them the way that I did.
Congratulations to all the coaches who work so hard to make sure that all of their players have a memorable and rewarding high school hockey experience. The love that you show for your teams is not taken for granted.
Congratulations to all the parents who support their children as they pursue their passion. The love that you have for your kids is palpable.
Congratulations to all the players who lace up the skates and play their hearts out. You guys are why we are all here. Whether your season ended last week, last night or today you got to play the best sport on this planet. Hopefully the journey will stick with you whether you are returning to CTHSHockey next year or moving on to a new challenge. Appreciate the chance to play. Never take it for granted. It ends for all of us at some point and when it does we all wish we could go back and be in your position one more time. Thank you for sharing your ride with all of us and best of luck!