Opinion Schools Sports

Stick Salute: Hall High School Hockey Seniors Skating into the Final Period

Hall hockey seniors. Top row, from left: Adam Busi, Nick DeLeo. Bottom row, from left: (C) Josh Orsey, (C) Owen Campbell, (C) Charles Croce. Courtesy photo

Reflections of senior hockey players at West Hartford’s Hall High School – and their parents – as the high school hockey chapter comes to an end.

By Michelle Bonner, Former ESPN, CNN, and Fox Sports Anchor, and freelance writer for USA Hockey Magazine 

In the hushed moments before the puck drops, amidst the echoes of skates cutting through a frozen canvas, the very essence of hockey lies – a sport that not only defines athleticism, but also carves a distinctive niche, unlike any other sport, through the bonds it forges that endure well beyond the final buzzer. Friendships in hockey transcend the ephemeral – hockey is family – widely considered the most unique and special in all of sports.

There exists a camaraderie born out of shared 4 a.m. ice times, where the world outside is still cloaked in predawn silence, and the chill permeates the air. No other sport demands such dedication, awakening players and parents alike in the quiet hours, binding them together in a commitment that goes beyond the confines of the rink.

Within the crucible of the rink, goalies and skaters emerge as keystones in the delicate balance between victory and defeat. Goalies stand as a solitary figure underscoring the fragility and intensity of the sport – guarding dreams and aspirations. Simultaneously, skaters become the architects, collectively shaping the unfolding drama on the ice. Every save, every breakaway, and each strategic play bears witness to the tireless and relentless focus poured into honing the most exquisite skills, the bruises worn as badges of resilience, and the unified spirit that encapsulates the very heart of the game.

This morning marked the beginning of the end for five Hall High School seniors. As their parents orchestrated breakfast on an ordinary Monday, the day held an extraordinary weight as the finality of the moment struck them like a ton of bricks

All of them intimately involved in hockey for the better part of 10, 11, 12, 13 years, the sport provided not just a backdrop for their son’s formative years, but a nexus where character was tested, leadership was cultivated, and a commitment to excellence was instilled. Able to trace the steps from the lobby to the locker rooms with their eyes closed, the rink became a second home, witnessing the evolution of their sons from beginners in “Learn to Skate” programs, through youth hockey, and ultimately to high school.

From the “right of passage” 4 a.m. rink arrivals and late-night practices knocking on midnight’s door, to the triumphs and defeats in games, the ecstasy and heartbreaks of tournaments, game day rituals, team huddles, inside jokes, post-game celebrations, the coaches’ inspirational speeches and game pucks, national anthems, bus rides filled with laughter and Subway sandwiches – a kaleidoscope of memories, and just like that, it’s over.

After more than a decade of watching their littles gaze up into the stands, seeking the reassuring presence of mom and dad, those parents will mark a new chapter tonight as they soak in every stride, each piercing sound of the whistle, and the collective heartbeat of a team simply trying to win.

Senior night is not just about the end; it stands as a celebration of resilience, growth, and the indelible mark left by the sport on the lives of these young men and their families. The cheers, the tears, and the memories etched in the frigid expanse of the rink will forever remain a testament to the lasting legacy of high school hockey – a bittersweet symphony of an ending that also heralds a beautiful beginning.

In honor of tonight’s event, each senior penned a heartfelt thank-you note to their parents, reciprocated by their parents’ expressions of what this hockey journey has meant to them.

Letters from seniors to their parents are italicized.

#8 Charles Croce, Captain

Charles Croce in the Wolves locker room. Courtesy photo

Dear Charles,

Hockey is a journey for both player and parent. We remember your first time skating at an open skate at Veterans Memorial Ice Rink when you were four years old like it was yesterday. More than a decade of early morning practices, travel games, skating, hockey lessons, and camps has gone by so fast. We have enjoyed watching you every step of way and have really cherished the time we spent together watching you grow into the incredible player and person that you are today. We hope that you will carry the many life lessons that were learned from playing hockey including discipline, hard work, perseverance, dedication, teamwork, humility, but most of all about not taking things too seriously and just having fun. We hope you carry the fond memories of family, friends, coaches and teammates with you as you embark on your next chapter of life. We are truly proud of you and will miss seeing #8, our blueliner, out there on the ice.

Love, Dad, Mom, Jack & Leo

Dear Mom and Dad (my #1 fans),

I am so happy that you gave me the opportunity to play hockey, it is something I’ll never forget. The life lessons and memories of early practices and long car rides will stick with me forever. Hockey has been such a big part of my childhood and I’m thankful that both of you were there for my journey. I wouldn’t be the person I am without you, and I’ll miss seeing you in the stands. 

Love, Charles (your #1 fan)

#17 Josh Orsey, Captain

Josh Orsey. Courtesy photo

Dear Josh,

There are no words to describe the joy we have as parents witnessing the passion and dedication you have for hockey. We always envisioned you loving hockey but, as non-hockey playing parents, we had no idea what was involved. After a colleague warned me that you were approaching “late starter” age, we quickly found you a half-season house team to join. On Jan. 11, 2014, we went to ISCC to meet your coach and team where we realized that your first time on the ice would be a game. Dressed in gear from a “starter kit” from my work friend, you hit the ice with unbridled excitement! Using the stick for balance as you learned to maneuver on the ice, you chased the puck with a huge smile on your face! As your parents learned how to dress you in hockey gear (yes – your mother put your knee pads OVER your hockey socks at first), you soaked up everything about the game. You watched as much hockey as possible, jumped at every opportunity to be on the ice, and became a referee to learn all the rules. You taught us how to be hockey parents and have been a role model to your brothers who are following in your hockey footsteps. Remember your second PeeWee year when you were frustrated to be placed on the lower team? You used the opportunity to transition from defense to offense, led your team in goals, and were awarded the PeeWee Soucy Love of the Game Award! Fast forward to senior year – and you are a team Captain! Nothing ever dampened your enthusiasm or love of the game! As you have grown and matured over the years, it has been our greatest privilege to be your biggest fans. May you continue to chase your dreams, work hard and love what you do throughout your life!

With all our love,

Mom and Dad

Dear Mom and Dad,

Thank you for supporting me throughout my hockey career. From my first year of house league to my last high school game, you have always been there to support me. I’m going to miss seeing you in the stands cheering my name, driving me to 5 a.m. practices and guiding me to be the best player I can be. You mean the world to me, and I would not be the person or player that I am today without your never ending support for myself and my teams. Thank you❤️

Love, Josh

#13 Owen Campbell, Captain

Owen Campbell. Courtesy photo

Dear Owen,

From the early practices to the action-packed games and all the unforgettable moments in between, your dedication and passion for hockey have filled our hearts with pride. Mom and Dad have witnessed your growth, both as a player and as an individual, and we couldn’t be more grateful for the memories created along this journey. Your hard work, persistent analysis, and love for the game have not only shaped your character but have also enriched our lives as parents. While this chapter may be closing, we know that the lessons learned, and the friendships forged will be enduring. We are immensely proud of the hockey player and person you have become. Here’s to the end of one incredible journey and the beginning of another exciting chapter.

Love, Mom & Dad

Dear Mom & Dad,

I know it has been a long 11-12+ years. Dealing with Nate must have been hard, but I definitely added on some extra trouble. With all the long car rides and carrying my bags through the snow, I can now say thank you. Hockey has been all we’ve known for so long and its crazy to think we are now at the end. I guess it’s now Anna’s turn to drag you along. 

Thank you so much, I love you.


#3 Adam Busi

Adam Busi. Courtesy photo

Dear Adam,

Your first practice with the West Hartford Wolves feels like yesterday. We were so proud of you pushing through those first practices to find a sport you really love and enjoy. Your commitment during those years always made us proud, each season greeted by new team members and navigating lines and positions, you seemed truly grateful to play and enjoy this sport (except for the time you were asked to play goalie). We have loved cheering for you from the stands and watching you grow as a player and a teammate, but most importantly watching you have fun all along the way. Your ability to positively embrace challenges and succeed both on and off the ice inspires us and we are looking forward to seeing your many more achievements ahead.


Mom, Dad, and Lauren

Dear Mom and Dad,

Thank you for helping me along my journey as a hockey player. You have given up your weekends for the past 10 years in order to take me to far away games and to see me play. I am grateful that you have always been there for me so I could keep playing, even during the weird COVID years. Even though the seasons are long and busy, l look forward to playing every year, and I am glad you helped me on my journey.

Love, Adam

#9, Nick DeLeo

Nick DeLeo. Courtesy photo

Dear Nick,

Thanks for all the great memories. I just love watching you work your butt off out there. It makes me so proud to see your commitment and dedication.  Every step of the way has been awesome. I know that part of you was doing this for me and for that I will be eternally grateful.  I love you son.  Now we get to play together in the beer league, I can’t wait!

Love, Dad

Dear Nicky,

You’ve had such a an amazing four years of your highschool experience.  You’ve amazed me with your academic achievements and your love of hockey.  You’ve made amazing friends both on and off the ice  that you’ll cherish forever.  You’ve made your Dad and I so extremely proud of you in every way.  I’m so very proud of you on all your highschool achievements.  I know you’ll continue to excel in college and your life time journey.  We love you so very much and are just so proud of you.  I love you dearly.

Love you always,


Dear Mom & Dad,

I cannot express my thanks enough as I complete my high school hockey experience. It would have been impossible if it weren’t for you, and I would not have even started playing if not for your support. I am incredibly appreciative for driving me to and from every single hockey practice, even those at 4 in the morning and putting in thousands of dollars not just in gear but also being able to play. All of this is an expense that you never were to receive an award for other than seeing me play and enjoy a hobby. Thank you for coming to my games and everything else hockey related. I can overall say I enjoyed hockey and playing it and that would be fully absent if you were not involved. Once again, thank you so much for supporting me for so long and sticking it through to the end.

Love, Nick

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