BRIDGEPORT — I’ve known New Canaan boys hockey coach Bo Hickey for over 20 years. At the risk of sounding immodest, I consider myself something of a Hickey-ologist. Most times you can tell what he is thinking as much as by his looks and expressions as his words.
Two things about Hickey: there is no coach in the FCIAC — no coach — who has better stories to tell. And there are few coaches that can equal his candor.
Praise is earned, not parceled out indiscriminately. It has been obvious for over three months how much respect and admiration Hickey has for this year’s team. That was confirmed in the bowels of Webster Bank Arena late Saturday afternoon, about 10 minutes after the Rams’ season ended with a 2-0 loss to Notre Dame of West Haven in the Division I quarterfinals.
“No question,” Hickey said, following a pause, when it was suggested that this group of players roused unique emotions. “I’ve had some teams that have run the table, lost in the finals. This is a special group of kids. I don’t say that too often. I really appreciate what they’ve done.”
It is uncertain if the New Canaan players realize Hickey’s respect is more difficult to earn than a state championship.
It is a feat they will soon appreciate, maybe not Saturday night, Sunday or Monday. But sometime soon.
“You could feel it from the coaches down to the freshmen,” said Harry Stanton, who has earned his place as both one of the best players and captains in New Canaan hockey history. We really became a family this year. I’m proud to have been a leader of such great kids. It’s a bad feeling but we’ve got to look what we accomplished.”
Most notable is the FCIAC title won a week earlier against Darien, the Rams’ most heated rival. It was the second-to-last victory in what was a run of 16 wins in 17 games prior to Saturday.
It will take time for the short-term disappointment to dissipate. New Canaan (19-5-1), the No. 7 seed, had defeated the No. 2 Green Knights (17-6-1) twice by one goal — including the season opener.
And it easily could have become a hat trick. The Rams had their chances. Sometimes they were thwarted by Notre Dame-West Haven goaltender Wade Conlan, who stopped several breakaways. Sometimes in was their own inaccuracy. There were penalties that made their task more arduous.
“I didn’t think we played our best, but we played well enough to keep it a close game,” Stanton said. “We played too many times with a man down, and you can’t beat a good team like this doing that.”
Hickey said he didn’t put much stock in the trite cliche of it being difficult to beat an opponent three times in a season.
“Well I think it you’re real good you can beat any team as many times as you have to beat them,” Hickey said. “It was a 1-0 game basically. We couldn’t find a goal at either end. We had opportunities. We fanned on a few pucks. Tonight they were better.”
Conlan and New Canaan’s Mac Wright engaged in a goaltending duel that was not settled until Ryan Lynch’s power play goal at 6:48 of the final period. Matt Dumas scored into an empty net with 21 seconds left.
“We had numerous chances and couldn’t capitalize, and when you don’t capitalize you have problems,” Hickey said. “I thought (Wright) played well. I thought everyone played well. I couldn’t have asked for more out of the kids. The kids are great. They have the work ethic and dedication. We just didn’t get the right hop, the right bounce. It was just one of those days.”
It is always difficult for an athlete to assess a season minutes after it has ended. Stanton was asked what he thought his feeling would be a week from now.
“We were given no respect really,” Stanton said. “Everyone knew that. This was an amazing season for New Canaan. I’m going to look back on this season and be pretty proud.”
No doubt, Stanton’s coach will feel the same way.