All posts by Brittany Burke

Blue Devils Honor The Bear

By Brittany Burke

 

Music at a sporting event is generally used to pump up the players entering the field, get the crowd going by signaling them to cheer even louder and in some cases to put the opponent on edge, but not for the Blue Devils.

On Thursday’s football practice, the team’s last before heading on their first road trip of the season, music wasn’t used as entertainment it was used as a learning tool. The Blue Devils football team began its season against the James Madison University Dukes, a ranked powerhouse of the South. The last time the Blue Devils entered Virginia they left JMU’s Bridgeforth Stadium with a 14-9 loss and a lot of that could be attributed to the noise.

Inarguably the south is football country and the Blue Devils learned that as they played their second game of the 2011 season in front of 25,000 people. The sound was defeaning and it overwhelmed the players who weren’t used to such a crowd. Head Football Coach Jeff McInerney wanted to make sure that his squad was prepared this time around, hence the intermittent blasts of Top 100 hits.

“In 2011 when we went down there it was quite loud … the student section is like a division 1 section and you can’t hear. I didn’t prepare them that year and we lost a tough one so we said we were gonna get ready and that’s what we did all week to get them used to it,” said McInerney.

McInerney has learned that you have to own up to your mistakes in order to change them and that’s the mindset going into the new season. CCSU is predicted to finish sixth in the NEC pre-season poll. They’re coming off a 2-8 season, a far cry from the back-to-back champions they once were but despite the down years McInerney is expecting good things this year.

Change began this offseason starting with McInerney and trickling down to his assistant coaches, captains and then the other members of the team.

“What we did right after the season is evaluate it and right when they came back we started a leadership program and accountability is huge for me. If I didn’t change they would never change, the assistant coaches wouldn’t change, the players, I needed to change. It wasn’t going the way it was supposed to go and if I didn’t change it was never going to … we’ve worked hard on it and its been fun our tempo’s good. I don’t know what it’s going to do wins and losses I don’t want to make a great prediction but I know we’re a better team and I know our tempo is better I know our organization is better and I know our communication is better that I know,” said McInerney.

Luckily for the Blue Devils they didn’t lose many to graduation but they did lose key players such as go-to kicker Juan Duque, wide receiver Deven Baker and linebackers D.J. Radich and Lorenzo Baker. The team does have veteran returners for the season, which should offset their losses.

A strong core including Blaise Rosati at center, Taylor Fuller at right tackle and Tyler Hurd at left tackle will anchor the offense while Rob Hollomon, Chris Linares and Tyrell Holmes are back to diversify the scoring abilities. Hollomon was named pre-season All-NEC at running back, punt returner, and kick returner.

The biggest things on the mind of McInerney are controlling the turnovers and bettering the defense.

“If you look at our stats last year we were horrible and you can’t sugar coat that and it comes down to fundamentals,” said the coach. “You can have all the ability in the world but if you aren’t doing your fundamentals right, you’re not working as one, you’re not going to do any good and we lost our way.”

As the summer practices come to an end and the team prepares for the Dukes there is still an inter-squad competition for starting kicker and punter. Heading into Saturday night’s game McInerney was still unsure if it would be Steve Calitri or Ed Groth permanently kicking for the extra point, the same could be said for punter with Groth and Joe Carter vying for the spot.

The Blue Devils are also playing harder this year in honor of their fallen teammate, Jamar Johnson. Johnson, a would-be sophomore at CCSU passed away on August 1, 2013 following a car accident in Bloomfield, Conn., on July 28.

Johnson was a redshirted defensive end with an impressive athletic resume through high school though he didn’t play with the Blue Devils last season. Prior to CCSU Johnson was named to an All-Conference Team as captain, given the most-athletic student award and was a part of two track and field championships, but it was his presence off the field that touched most closest to him.

“He was a bright man with a smile,” said McInerney, donning a sweat stained hat with an embroidered bear on the front. “His nickname was the Bear … he always had a smile. His favorite color was green, he was born on St. Patrick’s Day, he had nicknames for everybody…he always had a smile and that’s probably one of the brightest things.”

Johnson’s death wasn’t the first that McInerney has had to deal with in his time as coach. In January 2011 the Blue Devils lost Rich Royster and his girlfriend Brittany Mariani, again to a car accident. Many of the athletes now weren’t on the team when Royster passed away but McInerney is taking into account what he’s learned and applying it to help his team through Johnson’s death as best he can.

“We’ve learned from past none of them are easy they all hurt it doesn’t matter … We learned the last time, it just doesn’t go away,” said McInerney. “The pain can come up two months from now. His roommate was a student here that wasn’t a student athlete, there’s just so many people who you have to reach out to and you have to keep your eye out because something like that doesn’t necessarily stop today.”

As a way of helping the students and faculty affected by Johnson’s loss the school provided counselors. The team is also finding ways to keep his memory alive. The team has put his picture up alongside his jersey and will have the number 93 patch on all of their jerseys. McInerney not only wears his baseball cap with the bear but also a green pirate hat in honor of Johnson’s favorite color.

“One of the things they said at his funeral and his vigil [was] you know lets love each other and if we want Jamar to live, lets help the 19-year olds, he was 19 years old when he passed away and when we see somebody down pick them up and spread the love that’s really what we’ve done.”

There will be a vigil on campus in his honor but according to Dr. Laura Tordenti it is still being planned and they have yet to set a date.

Frozen Four: Battle Of CT

By Brittany Burke

By the time this article goes to print the NCAA Frozen Four Championship will have already happened, the UConn women will have already had their parade and the Yale Bulldogs will be in the midst of celebrating their 4-0 victory.

Although the game was a handful of days ago there is no denying what affect it had on the state of Connecticut and most importantly Connecticut hockey.

First, how do you choose who to root for? Living in Wallingford, I don’t live any closer to one than I do the other, they’re equally 20 minutes away from me. Most people in my part of the state could say they have the same problem with Yale and Quinnipiac being just 7.7 miles apart, separated by Whitney Avenue.

Even though it doesn’t matter which team wins, Connecticut benefits from this no matter what, it’s always a better time if you’re rooting for one over the other. So in the end I chose the QU Bobcats, which proved to be the wrong decision.

They say it’s hard to beat a team four times in a season and the theory was proven right Saturday night. However, either team I, or any other impartial CT fan decided on would have just cause because both teams had a remarkable story.

On one side you have the Yale Bulldogs who came into the tournament the underdogs (no pun intended) to beat fellow New Englanders, UMass and advance to the final. This is the first time an Ivy League team has made it all the way in decades.

Then you have the Bobcats, the team who began in the ’70s as nothing more than a club team, much like CCSU has today. They built their program from nothing and found a solid leader in Rand Pecknold. The club team aspect aside, it’s hard not to root for a school that we see continuously on our own New Britain campus thanks to the common NEC ties. (Just as a side note you were also able to see the Robert Morris name along the boards).

Both teams have a strong offensive core backed by even better goal tending. With QU’s Matthew Peca belonging to the Tampa Bay Lightning, their goaltender Eric Hartzell, a Hobey Baker award finalist, and Yale’s Rob O’Gara within the Bruins organization it wasn’t a matter of who had the most talent. It wasn’t even a question of who wanted it more because no matter who won, the team was leaving with their organization’s first NCAA Title.

This was honestly a game that I could say it didn’t matter who won. These two teams helped put the state of Connecticut in the forefront in a sport that is often put on the backburner. Unless it’s the Hartford Whalers people don’t seem to care to talk about hockey, but with these two teams playing for the national title it’s hard not to sit back and take notice. Even the most passive of fans in the state was talking about the game.

I was a bit disheartened walking into a Bob’s in Hamden Saturday afternoon only to find they had no Frozen Four memorabilia, but instead an entire section dedicated to the UConn Women.

Yes, they won a championship, their eighth, but no matter what the outcome another Connecticut team was coming back a champion and that shouldn’t be forgotten. Even if they aren’t the Huskies.

My outlook got better as I drove down Whitney Avenue to find signs outside bars proclaiming they were the midpoint between the two schools, so stop in and celebrate. I don’t know what the mood was like in Hamden but flashing NCAA signs littered the New Haven streets. The Hartford Courant had front page and sports section articles dedicated to different facets of the tournament as did the New Haven Register.

People were proud of the teams playing in Pittsburgh and it made me proud to be a Connecticut hockey fan.

More often than not when you say you’re from this state people immediately connect you with UConn, which isn’t a bad thing but there’s only so much Husky basketball one can take. This NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Championship served as a reminder that the state of Connecticut is more than UConn basketball.

And in the case of the 2013 champions, UConn isn’t the only dogs that bleed blue and white.

Hockey Club Rallies Around Brothers

By Brittany Burke

There will always be two kinds of support systems when you’re on a team.

First there is the external support system, the fans. They are the ones who may not be beside you in the locker room but still remain a vital part to the game. The fans are the people who cheer you on when a goal is made and the game is won, bad mouth the refs when they miss a call, try to distract the opposing team to throw them off their game and even cheer just a little bit louder when your team is down.

They are the twelfth man on the football field. They can get into the heads of the opponent, drown out the game plan and cause a misstep.

The fans are as important as the man standing next to you on the line, and this year, that above everything else has proven true for the CCSU club hockey team.

Their fans, made up of childhood friends, classmates, girlfriends, close and extended family, all play a vital role in the team’s season.

The parents are the backbone of the athletes external support system. They are the ones who will travel across the state lines to see their son play. They are there to celebrate the win and soften the blows of defeat, maybe even collect the pieces of a broken hockey stick.

The CCSU hockey club has a very tightknit fan base. It isn’t uncommon to walk into the Newington Rink and see the fathers of the team standing along the glass behind the opposing goalie wearing dark blue CCSU hockey hoodies while the mothers and other fans fill the bleachers waiting for the puck drop.

Then there is the internal support system built of coaches, trainers and teammates.

Teammates are the guys you can always turn to. They’re the ones who will have your back no matter what happens.

That’s the case for CCSU hockey, but at the beginning of the 2012 season their support systems were shaken.

When distress ripples through the tightknit community, like the one the team has, it impacts both the player and the team as a whole. The team is more than people who share the same passion; they become your second family.

“This is my second year with the team, so last year was the same thing and this year the bonds I’ve created with all the guys are even stronger. It is like a family,” said Conor Stanley. “We wake up at five in the morning to go to practice-we’re all there. We stay up ‘til one o’clock during our game times. We are a family and we’re all there for each other whenever someone needs something we turn to each other and it makes a big difference.”

For the majority of the first half of the season, there was something different in the stands and on the ice.

Mark Stanley wasn’t standing along the glass with the other fathers. Cara Stanley and Herb O’Connell weren’t in the stands, and Ryan Stanley wasn’t on the ice after deciding not to come back for his senior season. All that was left was Conor wearing the number 26.

The Stanleys have been a part of the CCSU hockey community for four years with Ryan and Conor on the ice and their parents and grandfather in the stands. However, in 2012 Cara Stanley’s health took a turn for the worse as she continued her battle with cancer.

“We knew things were getting tough when she couldn’t do the little small things that she normally could, like getting out of the house, going to the grocery store, going out to dinner with her girlfriends,” said Ryan. “It was definitely different because even when she was doing really poorly she’d want Conor to go play because that’s what made him happy and she didn’t want him to worry about her.”

Even when she couldn’t be in the stands to watch the Blue Devils she was there in spirit and through the presence of Conor. No matter how sick she felt she didn’t want her son to give up something he loved doing so he continued to play.

Cara Stanley always put others’ needs in front of her own, and having Conor play is just one example of that. He loved to play and the team needed him, both things she knew.

“I’d feel guilty sometimes because I’d go home a lot on the weekends and I’d just say ‘oh I’m gonna stay home tonight, we have a game but I’m just gonna stay home,’ and she would always encourage me to go,” said Conor. “Even though she couldn’t be there or my family couldn’t really be there it always felt like they were there because they wanted me to [play]. I wasn’t rushing out of the door and they’d push me out to go play. I knew they were with me the whole time.”

“She wanted the way she would go about things. She wanted our family to run the way our family runs. Even if times really got tough she wanted things to go as normal as possible. When we had to go to school we had to go to school; when we had a game I had to go to the game. She really wanted normalcy.”

Growing up Cara Stanley was always involved in what her three sons were doing. From the PTA at school to baseball and hockey, she was there. When her three sons were all playing different levels of ice hockey she made it her goal to make it to as many of their games as she could in a weekend.

“Growing up it was Brendan on the junior team, I was on the Lasers and Conor was with South Windsor,” said Ryan. “We could be in three separate states on the same day and she would do her best to budget and see all of us play. She never left anyone out and she was running around and I give her so much credit for that. I can only imagine the headaches my dad and her and my grandfather had to go through to see games.”

She was able to make friends wherever she went by putting others first and herself second. It’s that character trait that seemed to ruminate with the people around her.

On weekends you could always find her bundled up in the stands at the Newington Rink talking and laughing with the people around her. Whether it was another mom, a friend of her sons, a parent from the opposing team, or even a reporter from the school newspaper it didn’t matter. She had the ability to make you feel welcomed and as if you had met up with an old friend even if you were just introduced moments before.

“I would always say my friends would come over for me but stay for my mom because she was just passionate about knowing people and who they are and where they come from and their story,” said Ryan. “And I feel like she accomplished that, she would tell me that she didn’t even see half the game because she was talking with people and she probably had more friends at Central than I did just because she went to the games and was always very chatty.”

On Nov. 12, 2012 Cara lost her long fought battle, but it was evident by the two-and-a-half hour wait at her wake that she had truly made an impact in the world around her.

Hundreds of people from all different groups stood in the zig-zagging line waiting to pay their condolences to the Stanleys. Scattered throughout the line was members of the CCSU hockey community.

There were the players, other parents, friends and coaches all there to support not only Ryan and Conor, but the entire family.

“A lot people have reached out. It [was] wonderful to see all the CCSU guys at my mom’s wake,” said Ryan. “It spoke a lot about the character values on the team. They’re there for us. It’s more than a hockey team, it’s a family and being with guys four or five days a week and just knowing they’re there for us it really means a lot and it would have meant a lot to my mom too.”

“When I saw the whole Central team there it really hit home that they really are there for me that much. They don’t have to be there but they decided to come and it means a lot,” said Conor.

The team acted as anemotional support system for Conor and even Ryan when their mom was sick. Some players like Matt Siracusa grew up playing hockey with the Stanleys and knew her like a second mom.

“It helps because not only was I playing with a big heart but they were playing with a big heart and other people would see that and it was a domino effect,” said Conor. “They were playing for something too, not just myself and those guys weren’t just playing for me they were playing for my mom too.”

The team played with an extra fire this season knowing what one of their own was going through. The other players and coaches were there for Conor when he needed to talk, miss a game or have his spark relit.

The weekend following her passing CCSU hockey took to the ice in Newington to face the UConn club team. With Conor in uniform and the rest of her family in the stands the team observed a moment of silence for Cara Stanley.

In honor of her memory the team draped Conor’s second jersey over the glass with the name “CARA O” taped above the number 26.

“It was definitely a moment I’ll never forget and it was pretty amazing that it meant that much with a lot of people,” said Conor. “My whole family was there. My cousins and aunts and there’s nowhere else she would have been so she was 100 percent with us that night.”

Even though she can no longer be there physically she is there in spirit every time the Blue Devils skate onto the ice.

 

Seniors End Strong Blue Devil Careers Despite Final Home Game Loss

By Brittany Burke

This year’s hockey season may not have gone as planned, but as the graduating seniors lined up in front of the goal waiting for their name to be called, there was no doubt that they didn’t have CCSU careers to be proud of.

The seniors this year, Greg Coco, Rob Rubino, Ryan Pereira, Ian Schwalenberg and Brian Fay have been through a lot with the Blue Devils. They’ve held the title as National Runners-Up, their names forever being displayed on a banner in Newington, and they’ve helped bring the Governor’s Cup back to CCSU.

“Its definitely sad to close this chapter but we’ve accomplished a lot- a lot no one else has previously so at the end of the day I’m happy with what I’ve done here,” said Coco.

Before the start of the game against Siena not only was each senior honored, but so were their families. It’s tradition to have the players announced and to have their families come out to the ice with them. There they have the opportunity to present the people who have supported them with a single flower as a way of saying “thank you.”

“They don’t get see us in practice- they only see us from the stands,” said Ribino. “They don’t see the inner workings about what the team is really like so it was cool to bring them in and let them see a little bit of what we see and what we do every single day.”

With emotions running high, CCSU couldn’t secure the win against Super East rivals and lost 6-2 for the final time at home. In following their seasonal pattern CCSU was down 2-3 going into the third, but let the final 20 get away from them.

“We let the penalties get the best of us again and we couldn’t stay strong defensively again and we couldn’t score enough goals again,” said Pereira. “It’s the most frustrating pattern ever and it definitely gets to us every single game.”

Too many penalties and not enough defensive production helped Siena escalate to a four-goal advantage while CCSU couldn’t find the back of the net.

One major difference on the ice was the presence of Jon Knobloch. Last season Knobloch was one of CCSU’s leading point producers but a stint studying abroad and an injured shoulder took away from his playing time.

The final weekend was coincidentally his first time back and in his only home game of the season he managed to net the Blue Devils’ second and final goal.

“It was good to be back,” said Knobloch. “I wish it could have gone a little better at the end there, but it was a good game. I thought we put it all on the line for the seniors but we just couldn’t just get the win tonight … Conor [Stanley] made a great pass and it started with Rex  [Matt Reckdenwald] in the break out so it just went really well and I just happened to be there.”

Despite the six-goals against Coco the defensive production in front of the net was the best it’s been all season.

“For all three periods I thought they battled harder this game then they had in a long time,” said Head Coach Ben Adams. “They were more physical, they were winning 50/50 pucks, they were winning wall battles, things we haven’t seen for a long time this year they were doing tonight. Unfortunately its tough to get into a rhythm and keep things rolling when you’re constantly going to the box, but I thought they played hard tonight.”

After losing so many defensemen over the past few years it wasn’t a secret that this season was going to have a rebuilding focus and when things didn’t go the way the team was used to it could have been easy to just give up, but they continued to show up every weekend and battle.

“It’s been hard because we’ve been through so much success from the runner up champions to regionals every year and Governor’s Cup,” said Fay. “Then having a season like this is really frustrating because we’ve come so close and just have been so unlucky with everything. It really takes a toll on you.”

“One thing that really keeps me coming back is the love of the sport,” said Rubino. “I can forget literally anything going on in my life when I’m playing hockey. When I’m on the ice I don’t think about anything but what’s going on and that’s a cool escape. It’s win or lose when you’re on the ice- you’re on the ice and it gets better.”

The graduating seniors have seen a lot during their time playing for the Blue Devils and despite their losing record this season they’ve helped grow the program into one that has become well-known around the CCSU campus.

Blue Devils Attract Enthusiastic Fans Despite Losing Effort

By Brittany Burke

Despite dropping both home games this past weekend, the CCSU Club Hockey team still drew a loud and impressive crowd to the Newington Arena to watch them play against UConn and William Patterson.

With the stands littered with Blue Devil IRC pitchforks (thanks to the IRC skate that took place the same night), the fans shouted, egged on the WPU Pioneers and jeered the refs, all while keeping the CCSU spirit up as the Blue Devils fell 7-2.

“We gotta thank the fans too, they’re awesome,” said team veteran Greg Coco. “…I give them a lot of credit and they make us feel kind of important.”

The five point deficit doesn’t show the true story of how well Coco played in net against CCSU’s SECHL rivals. With the majority of the game played close to the goal’s crease, Coco saved 47 of the 54 shots taken against him, with a final save percentage of 87.

“I thought he played great,” said Head Coach Ben Adams. “That score is not indicative of the battle [and] those last three he was hung out to dry and the guys, I don’t want to say quit on him, but they weren’t battling as hard as they should be.”

WPU took the early lead, shutting out CCSU in the first period while gaining two goals of their own. CCSU answered back in the second with goals from Ross Burton and Rob Ribino getting the assists from Evan Mink, Conor Stanley, Brian Fay and Jack Johnson.

Toward the end of the period WPU notched a short-handed goal while CCSU couldn’t capitalize on the Pioneer penalties. As WPU came out more aggressive in the final period, the Blue Devils couldn’t keep up. A steady stream of goals put the visitors up by three with only three minutes left to play.

“I’ve just been trying to focus on watching the pucks and worrying about my angles because that’s pretty much all I can control at the end of the day. I think until the end of the third period I hadn’t given up an even strength goal in the last two and a half games, so that’s frustrating,” said Coco.

One thing CCSU doesn’t lack is emotion for the game. However, over the course of the season they’ve let those emotions get the best of them and get them sent into the penalty box. That pattern showed again as two late penalties by Andrew Mazurkiewicz and Johnson gave the Pioneers a final opportunity to score.

The last two goals were scored by the Pioneers with 45 and seven seconds left.

“We fell short in the third, but it’s more mental mistakes than physical mistakes,” said Adams. “We did okay breaking pucks out, I thought we did too much with the pucks at time, the support wasn’t always there, but it’s just those kind of mental break downs that hurt us and they don’t really hurt us that bad. It was technically a 4-2 score and then it fell apart.”

The team’s temper reared the night before in a 5-2 loss to its in-state rivals, the UConn Huskies.

With 1:48 left to play in the game a bad roughing call was made against Johnson, sending him to the box and eventually the locker room for the remainder of the game while UConn’s Ryan Doherty was given four minutes.

“The emotion shows that they have the heart there, which is good,” said Adams. “As far as the refing, they call what they call and it is what it is but we have to do a better job of controlling the emotion and playing hockey.”

UConn took more penalties than CCSU, but the Huskies managed 48 shot attempts on goal while the Blue Devils had 20 less.

It was CCSU who struck early with two goals from Burton and Johnson in the first, but they were kept off the board for the rest of the game as UConn tallied two in the second and three in the third.

“We looked pretty good in the first. We were blocking shots and Goose [Zach Gosselin] stood on his head to keep us in it and defense played really well tonight. In the second we had a little let down and in the third period we took too many penalties,” said Kevin San Angelo.

CCSU will play its final home game Feb. 9 against Siena at 9 p.m.