NORWALK, Conn. – The Norwalk and Brien McMahon co-op boys ice hockey team has a renewed sense of pride this winter: With a rink it can call its own, the hockey hybrid has a new attitude and optimism.
“The sense of pride and feeling of having a home rink is spectacular,’’ said coach Dan Feighan, who has been the team’s coach for four years. “Having your own home rink definitely has its advantages. It feels like you have your own building. It was way overdue that we had our own rink.”
Norwalk/McMahon plays its home games at the SoNo Ice House, which opened last summer. The Bears previously practiced and played their home games at the Darien Ice Rink. The team made the arrangement work, but it was less than ideal.
“We’re not fifth on the list anymore,’’ Feighan said. “We were always behind the boys and girls teams from Darien and New Canaan. No disrespect to those teams, but we always came after that and we didn’t have the money to compete. Now we’re in a rink in our own town, and we can schedule practices at times that are much more convenient.”
But the new home has not helped the Bears on the ice. They are 1-8 in the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference, where more established teams such as Darien, New Canaan and Greenwich have been the powerhouses for years.
But the rink will increase interest among young players, Feighan said. Before this year, he had some players who were new to the sport when entering high school. Mike McCroy, last year’s captain, picked up the sport as a high school freshman. Now he’s on the Western Connecticut State University squad.
“There’s a lot of complexities involved,’’ Feighan said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. Players have a lot more options for their hockey. I feel that we have changed the program with our progress. I think more kids are coming here each year. We’re getting two or three at a time, and we need five or six. I feel it’s inevitable. It’s going to take a few years to get there.”
Feighan already has advantages over other towns. In Stamford, for instance, the players are divided among three public schools and King, a private school. Norwalk and McMahon could have their own programs someday, too, he said.
“We might even have to make some cuts in the next year or two,’’ Feighan said. “We haven’t had to do that in a long time.”
Among Feighan’s biggest supporters are Ryan Hughes, SoNo Ice Rink’s managing partner, and Eric Lind, a coach of several teams that play out of SoNo. Norwalk High athletic director Wayne Mones has also been supportive of the team.
Unfortunately for Feighan’s seniors, they will be long gone when the program turns the corner.
“I think they’re a little bummed out about that,’’ he said. “I wish they could’ve been here as freshmen. They know there’s a bright future here.”