What's Next? by Kevin Cunningham
It never fails. Every year the hockey season ends and I want to hit the rewind button and have just a little more time. “Just give me a few more weeks. A couple more practices. A handful more games. I am going to miss this the instant it is over!”
I actually usually start feeling it with about a month left in the regular season. Playoffs are a bonus. I do not care how good your team is -- you cannot bank on the playoffs. Plus they usually only end up being really fun for one team (per division or championship). So, I really cherish those last few weeks. The games and practices, sure, but more-so the relationships.
Hockey people are the best people.
Getting to know a group each year and developing that particular team’s unique culture is the real joy of coaching. Those are the memories that last a lifetime and forge friendships that stand the test of time; the tests that life inevitably brings us, often years later. Your best teammates most often become your best friends. They are at your wedding, you swap pictures of your kids and when you catch up after too many years apart it’s like your were in that locker room just yesterday. And they are there for the shitty times too; when one of you gets fired you all head to the bar together and when someone has a sick spouse you drop everything to be by their side. If one of your teammates is battling any challenge, then you all are in that battle with them. Together. That’s what being a teammate and friend is really all about.
In the last few weeks a lot of seasons have come to an end. Some ended in euphoria, others in heartache. They all have one thing in common, however: those teams will never be quite the same. Some players will return bigger, faster, stronger, more ready to lead the team to glory. Others will move on to college, to another level or hockey, to the military, to work or to to some other form of real life. When that horn sounds or that puck crosses the goal line to end that last game we are all faced with the same question: what’s next?
I am fortunate to coach for a living. The Connecticut Chiefs have entrusted me with the task of running our junior teams. I am indebted to our owners for this opportunity. I never take it for granted and I know that even on the tough days I am one of the lucky ones. I get to do something I love with a group of quality young men who are working toward their goal of playing college hockey. I get to see our team persevere through challenges, realize successes, develop an identity and create something that is truly theirs each season.
I also get to see the individuals grow as they face adversity, adapt their games, grow as players, develop as young man and ultimately reach their goal. It is a job that is fun, draining, rewarding, taxing, exhilarating and frustrating. Sometimes all in one day! It is never boring. It is always extremely important because of the responsibly I have to our players and their families.
I strive to have our program reach three goals for each individual player: a tremendous experience, significant development, and advancement to the next step in their academic and athletic journey. If we achieve those goals for our players, then the season has been a success. We had some success this year and we are working hard to ensure that we continue to have success and help as many players and families as possible for years to come.
When Luke brought me on board the CTHS hockey ship in the fall of 2017 he and I did not know each other very well. Some of my first tweets were pretty measured. Kinda vanilla. I did not want to piss off the boss and I was the new guy blindly fumbling through the teams, coaches and players. I mispronounced a few things and heard about it plenty. However, I can say without hesitation that being a small part of the CTHS Hockey crew has been an amazing experience for me. The staff is phenomenal! It is the most passionate, prepared, balanced and thorough group around covering any sport. I have enjoyed learning about the teams, players, coaches and personalities of Connecticut high school hockey. Thank you to all of you who have welcomed me and allowed me to bring you my thoughts and perspectives on what I have witnessed. I appreciate all of you!
That brings me back to the beginning. Another season has ended. What’s next? I do not mean for the teams or the coaches or all of us at CTHS Hockey. We know that there will be a next season. Some teams will be looking to rebuild, some will be looking to reload and others will be looking to repeat. We will have the best coverage of it all! I really mean for the players and most especially the seniors. What’s next?
You (and your families!) have poured countless hours into this game. It has taken you across the state, across New England, across the country or around the world. You started playing as a wide-eyed youngster, then you developed some goals for yourself, maybe you reached many of them and I am certain that you have had some awesome experiences. But hockey is different. The path to college is often longer, with more twists and turns in the road.
That is where I have to share my thoughts: if you are not ready to give up on your goal, DON’T! If it is important to you to continue playing at a high level to pursue this goal, DO IT! Maybe it is with our program, maybe it is as a post-grad student in prep school, maybe it is playing ACHA hockey in college (this is harder than many realize, by the way!), but whatever it is find a way to keep playing. Do not let that final horn of your high school career be your final horn if you do not want it to be! Do not give up on your dream. Do not give up on yourself! Believe in yourself, do your research, ask the hard questions and find a spot where you can continue to chase your goals!
If I can ever be of assistance to anyone who read this, please reach out to me anytime. Thank you and best of luck to all of you in whatever is next for you!