Connolly continuing winning ways

by Andrew Stepanek || AHL On The Beat Archive

Winning a college hockey national championship is a special accomplishment that can be about many things. It’s about the glory instilled in the community, the alumni, family and friends. It’s about making a name for the school represented and knowing that no one can take that moment of high achievement away.

Calgary, Alta., native Mike Connolly found truth in all of these things as he is now in the midst of his first professional season with the Worcester Sharks of the American Hockey League.

“It meant so much more for it to be the first in school history,” said Connolly. “Sixty-year-olds were coming up to us and shaking our hands and thanking us. It was a great feeling.”

The NCAA All-American is talking about last spring when he was a major component of the University of Minnesota-Duluth hockey team as they won the 2011 NCAA Division I Hockey National Championship over the highly touted Michigan Wolverines by an overtime score of 3-2.

It was UMD’s first national hockey championship, and their first title game appearance since the 1983-84 season.

Connolly, an assistant captain, had one goal and three assists in the NCAA tournament and he finished the 2010-11 season as the third-leading scorer for Bulldogs with 54 points (28g, 26a).

“He was as good as anyone on our team and is a gritty player with a great intelligence for the game,” said Scott Sandelin, the UMD men’s head hockey coach.

Although the moment ranks as Connolly’s proudest hockey accomplishment to date, he is determined to compete at the professional level. Connolly was signed by the San Jose Sharks to an entry-level contract this past April.

“Looking back I have been very fortunate,” Connolly said, “It was the best three years of my life (playing at UMD). The next level is very competitive and I am always hungry for another championship.”

He is hungry for a championship with the Worcester Sharks, and he is not alone. Connolly is firmly positioned on the Sharks top line with fellow national champion Benn Ferriero and the versatile Brodie Reid. They have already been the catalysts behind several of the Sharks offensive successes this season. The addition Connolly is a big reason why.

Currently, Connolly has led the charge as the Sharks’ top scorer while also ranking third among all AHL rookies with 11 points (5g, 6a) across eight games. His five tallies are good enough for fourth among AHL rookies and he maintains the fifth best rookie plus/minus rating (+7).

Connolly sees no reason to slow the production down as he knows the pressures that come with being on the top line.

He was a member of the Bulldogs’ top forward line alongside teammates Justin Fontaine and the unrelated Jack Connolly. These three accounted for 172 points to make them the most potent offensive line in the country.

The 2011-12 Worcester Sharks are happy to give Connolly, as well as the four other national champions on their roster, the opportunity to further advance their championship resumes.

Sharks veteran Ben Guite, defenseman Nick Petrecki, top-line center Ferriero and forward John McCarthy have also achieved the highest honor in college hockey.

Guite was an assistant captain on the University of Maine squad that took home the title in 1999. Guite scored the Black Bears’ first goal en route to an overtime victory defeating the heavy favorite University of New Hampshire.

Petrecki and Ferriero were teammates on the 2008 Boston College team that sent the University of Notre Dame back home with a 4-1 loss. Petrecki was a freshman standout defenseman that scored against Miami University in the tournament regional while Ferriero finished that year as the team’s fourth-leading scorer with 17 goals and 25 assists.

Boston University hailed as college hockey champions in 2009 after one of the most exciting championship games to date. McCarthy was the Terriers’ assistant captain as they scored twice in the final minute to force overtime where they later won the game, dispatching Miami University. McCarthy received the John B. Simpson Award, given by BU to the player that most exhibits enthusiastic senior leadership.

All of this success creates a champions atmosphere in the Sharks locker room. These five national champions have been in a position to win before and know the kind of hard work and dedication that is necessary to succeed.

As you follow the Worcester Sharks this season, keep an eye on Connolly and the rest of the Sharks as they look to feed their championship hunger.