Some people play hockey recreationally, while others play it competitively. Those individuals train through the hurt and pain, driven by deeper motivation.
As captain of the Varsity Blues men’s hockey team, Connell is driven by his passion for the game, which is a defining characteristic throughout the history of his career. When I met Connell for an interview, it was evident he had energy and drive when he talked about his craft.
The long-time defender says hockey has been everything to him, and taught him valuable lessons. Connell explains that playing hockey entails “learning a lot about yourself [and] other people.”
He appreciates “the opportunity to come to a great school and play hockey, to do what you love with a bunch of guys that you love.”
Regarding his relationship to the sport, Connell says, “I hold so much value to hockey because… it’s shaped me, helped me and allowed me to do a lot that I probably wouldn’t have done if I wasn’t playing hockey… I think it’s been everything to me.”
The Blues captain has much to be proud of after playing out five years with the Varsity Blues. As Connell reflects on his years on the team, he says without hesitation that his biggest accomplishment was being named captain.
It was an incredible opportunity that goes unmatched for him, and he “really cherished the opportunity to do that.”
Connell will graduate this year and be remembered as an outstanding and passionate captain.
He has played a total of 113 career games with U of T, and 27 were played this season alone, and he was instrumental in developing a strong sense of team community.
Connell says, “I always found I was having the most fun when I was playing my best, and it goes vice versa as well.” He believes there is a correlation between the love of the game and performance and admits that “when you’re playing, you’re most confident and when you’re having the most fun is when you’re playing your best.”
Connell says that he hasn’t always been a defender. A few years ago, he was switched from the forward line to the defense line. He thinks this gave him a deeper understanding of the game, as he has experienced both sides of the spectrum.
Now, as a defender, Connell enjoys being able to “be a bit more patient at the blue line, being able to control the pace play, [and] really being able to see the whole ice,” which not a lot of positions allow. Connell was named the Best Defenceman in 2015–2016 hockey season.
Connell believes lessons learned from hockey can be taken off the ice and applied more broadly to his life. He says, “[Hockey has] completely shaped me and been a huge asset moving forward in my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
The hardest lesson that he learned through hockey was the importance of a short-term memory. He says “every shift is a new shift, every game is a new game. You [learn to] put the past behind you and kind of just keep moving forward.”
As the captain, it is Connell’s job to keep his team motivated, which is especially important in such a cooperative sport as hockey. He attributes all success back to his team.
Connell’s definition of hockey revolves around teamwork, as he explains that it is a sport “that comes down to everyone pulling in the same direction and really needing everyone on the same page.”
He has given some thought to playing professional hockey, but he explains that “you gotta make some decisions to what you wanna do in life” and pro hockey is not in his cards. He says he is “content with [his] career” and that, although he’ll miss his skates, “it was a good place to hang ’em up and move on and turn the next page.”
Connell is optimistic about the future of the team, and thinks “the team is headed in the right way with a new coach and kind of a new identity.” He sees “a lot of good ahead for the team [and that they] can do a lot moving forward and win a lot of games.”
Moving forward, Connell knows his teammates will carry on without him, and he emphasizes the importance of working together as a unit. He reflects on his time on the team and cautions the next generation of players to relish their time on the ice.
“Going through the highs and lows of the seasons [with your team] is the stuff you’re gonna always remember,” he explains.
Connell is a role model and a star player. He will be a part of a lifelong legacy on the Varsity Blues men’s hockey team. Although the future is still uncertain, Connell will certainly carry his passion and drive into whatever career he chooses to pursue.