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Much of Newtown High School’s hockey team’s success this past season was made possible by the experience players gleaned during several years of youth competition. But two Nighthawks went from learn-to-skate rookies to champions during the four-year span of their high school careers.
Talk about making quick strides.
Lucas O’Brien and Scott Bauer picked up the game of hockey as freshmen and, with dedication, plenty of practice, and some natural talent, turned into key members of this past season’s South-West/Southern Connecticut Conference Division III champions as seniors.
“I had never skated before,” said O’Brien, reflecting on his days as an eighth grader who, after being encouraged by his older brother, Jimmy, to play for years, finally laced up the skates. “We really didn’t have control of our edges at that point. The hardest part is definitely the skating.”
“I hadn’t put on skates until the summer going into freshman year,” said Bauer, adding that they were prompted by former Newtown High standout Evan Isaacs to go to open skate sessions and build their skills. “I just fell in love with it and said ‘I have to do this.’”
O’Brien and Bauer not only took their games to a higher level, but they served as captains this past season.
“I never expected to be captain. I never expected the opportunity to lead the team,” said O’Brien, a forward, who initially just wanted to give the sport a try.
“It wasn’t easy,” Bauer said of being first-year players in a program loaded with seasoned skaters.
Although they got a bulk of their ice time as part of the junior varsity team, O’Brien and Bauer did suit up with the varsity group and were part of the Division III State Champions as freshmen.
“I think that helped us. They taught us a lot,” Bauer, a defenseman, said of being around the upperclassmen as well as the experienced underclassmen during that title run.
Bauer is a lacrosse player and O’Brien plays baseball, but both athletes found a passion for a winter sport and have made the most of it.
“Two guys came in and saw how exciting hockey is and they were hooked,” Newtown Coach Paul Esposito said. “Both of them have tremendous work ethics, nice kids, eager to learn — team players. You could throw 100 compliments their way. That’s what you want, character guys for your hockey program.”
Whether it’s collegiate club hockey, adult leagues, or pickup games, Bauer and O’Brien will continue to have chances to sharpen their blades and hit the ice — and continue to develop their skills.
“Until I stop playing hockey I’ll constantly be working on things,” O’Brien said.