Pioneer Hockey Building Community On And Off The Ice

January 7, 2004

Courtesy of Darryl Konicki, Sacred Heart University Sports Information Department

Sacred Heart University, like most other colleges and universities, has a major commitment to community service and the betterment of the area that supports it. This part of the student-athlete experience is also greatly instilled in the men’s ice hockey team by head coach Shaun Hannah.

The University requires each student organization, which includes its 32 athletic teams, to participate in one community service program per academic year. The Pioneer men’s ice hockey team typically performs three to four of these programs each year.

“The surrounding community gives us a great deal of support, so we try to repay their generosity when we get the chance,” says Hannah.

In fact the team philosophy states: “Pioneer hockey … striving for excellence on the ice, in the classroom and in the community!”

This is more than just a mission statement to coach Hannah, who states “We work with them to make them better hockey players and they work hard in the classroom to attain their degrees. By working in the community we hope to make our players well rounded individuals by the time they graduate.”

One of the ways that the team accomplishes this is by being active members in the community whenever possible, which is a major focus of the program.

“We don’t have many days off,” said team captain Chuck Metcalfe, “so when we do have a day off we like to get out there and help others. I’ve been here four years now and we’ve done quite a bit and had fun doing it.”

They achieve this through participating in a number of activities, from organizing youth hockey camps to participating in a local elementary schools reading program. The members of this team have touched the lives of a great deal of people, both young and old.

The team’s first project of the season was conducting a camp for each of the teams in Southern Connecticut Youth Hockey, which took place on November 24, 2003, for all of the teams in the mite, peewee, and squirt divisions. During the camp each division worked for one hour with a group of the Pioneer players.

“We do things in the youth camps that they don’t normally do in practice and for the kids to be out there with our guys it’s a great experience,” says Hannah.

Similarly the team recently held a camp at the Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich on January 4th of this year at the Brunswick School in Greenwich, CT. This was the third straight year that team conducted the camp at the BGCG, which is now an annual event.

Three years ago Hannah was looking for an organization that the team could work with. At the same time Kevin Butler, a program director at the Greenwich Boys and Girls Club, was looking for a college team to work with his kids at the Club.

“When I was looking for a team I called a friend of mine in Utica and he recommended I call coach Hannah,” says Butler. “We eventually got into contact with each other and made the camp happen.”

After the on ice portion of the camp was over the players took some time to speak with the kids about what it took for them to become Division I hockey players and also to answer any questions that the kids had.

“We try to build the kids character and self esteem and help them become good citizens,” says Butler. “Shaun and his players exemplify each of these things so when they come here they give the kids hope that they can do a lot in hockey and in life.”

“I like working with the little guys and they look up to us and get too see us as regular people as well as athletes,” says Pioneers senior Mike Reagan.

“We try to have our guys give back to the game whenever they can. Somebody helped them out along the way so they should help out the younger guys when they can,” Hannah adds.

The team also participated in a Habitat for Humanity build, an event that was largely organized by Pioneer sophomore Andrew Billinghurst, who works in the Service Learning Department. That department is responsible for organizing most of the volunteer activities that Sacred Heart students participate in.

“I worked with Phyllis McLedt in the Service Learning Department last year and she had an idea to work on a Habitat house and afterwards I thought that this would be a good thing for the guys to be a part of,” says Billinghurst. “I pitched the idea to Phyllis and she found some houses in Bridgeport. A bunch of the guys got together for about four hours and helped them in any way we could.”

“We hope that by volunteering, the guys on the team get a sense of personal satisfaction and build their self esteem by helping others. It’s a great feeling knowing that you were able to help somebody,” says Hannah. “Volunteering can be something that is difficult to start doing, but once they do they have a great feeling afterwards. We hope it becomes a part of who they are and that they continue to give back to their communities after graduating.”

These are just a few examples of what the team has done to give back to the local community. Some of the other projects include participating in elementary school reading programs, participating in SHU’s Alcohol Awareness Week, and donating funds to help a young relative of one of the school’s women’s ice hockey players.

The team has also brought in guest speakers such as Willie O’Ree, who works for NHL Diversity. After speaking at a team banquet O’Ree spoke at local elementary schools and with area youth groups. Since 1998 O’Ree has gone around the country to spread his message.

“I want them to know that anything they set their minds to, they can do,” says O’Ree. “There’s no such thing as not succeeding in something you want to attain. You can fail, but if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Some of the players have also volunteered outside of the activities that are not organized through the team, some that directly involve hockey and some that do not.

“I volunteered in the hospital emergency room back home and I worked on a couple political campaigns,” says sophomore Chris Connerty. “I also helped coach a youth group and helped at a golf clinic at the country club I worked at.”

Many of them referenced the fact that when they were growing up there was somebody there that they could look up to and that was a major factor in their deciding to become active in their communities.

Whatever their reasons may be for volunteering their time and energy in the community, these players will touch the lives of many people for many years to come.

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