Building the Herd – Aaron Connolly

#63 Aaron Connolly

Position: Forward

Born: Northfleet, Kent

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 1st May

Bison head coach Doug Sheppard continued his traditional Thursday signing announcements by informing the Basingstoke fans of the return of alternate captain, Aaron Connolly.

Banners On The Wall caught up with Connolly earlier today who was looking forward to another season in Bison colours;

Obviously I am very pleased to be back with Basingstoke for another season and can’t wait to get started. I think we have some unfinished business as I know personally not winning the league still hurts.

We also have a nice little trophy cabinet in the rink now and I for one do not want to give up the two we won last year. It wont be easy defending the titles as the league looks to be getting stronger again but I honestly believe with the way the organisation is run and the great fans along with the guys that we have signed that we will be fine.

On a personal note I would like to say thanks again for everyone involved in the organisation from the boys to the fans and everyone involved for making me feel so welcome last year I had a blast.

Hope you all have a great summer and I look forward to seeing you all in September and don’t forget #donttellthemonkey!”

(c) 5 Hole Photography

(c) 5 Hole Photography

Connolly, who turns 21 in June, started his career in the Invicta junior system and made his debut in senior hockey with the Dynamos whilst still playing under 16s. Aaron moved to Chelmsford in 2008 and after high scoring campaign in the junior ranks where he tallied 126 points across u16s and u18s made his debut for the Chieftains ENL side in 2009/10 where he went a point per game in his first full season of senior hockey.

In 2010/11, Connolly played for the Chieftains again, bettering his points totals but also made his EPL debut as part of a two way agreement with Slough where he spent the majority of the backend of the season. Connolly scored 7 points in 17 games and was part of the squad that defeated the Bison in the EPL Cup final.

Connolly was rewarded by then Jets coach Doug Sheppard with a full time contract in Berkshire where he remained for the next 2 seasons. He played 101 times for the Jets scoring 52 points and was given the alternate captaincy in his second full season in 2012/13. He also made a couple of fleeting appearances for the Jets NIHL side where he scored 16 points in 4 games.

After two years at Slough, Connolly was lured to Basingstoke by Sheppard for the most recent campaign where he quickly became a Bison fan favourite. In 53 regular season contests he had 20 goals and 24 assists for 44 points making it his best year in senior hockey so far. Impressive with his shooting and his checking, Connolly was rewarded with the alternate captaincy after the departure of Joe Miller to Telford and scored the memorable empty net goal at the Skydome to seal the Bison’s playoff championship.

Aaron also represented Great Britain at under 18 and under 20 level, captaining the under 20s at the Division 1B world championships.

One of the enduring images of last season for many was Aaron Connolly in the playoff final skating up the wing and muscling past a Phoenix player then firing the puck over a sprawling Luke Boothroyd into the back of the net. About to be mobbed by his teammates and in a fit of excitement, he slammed his stick on the floor and was yelling at the top of his lungs.

In itself it’s a fantastic moment, one that will arguably write Connolly into club folklore but what sticks out for me is that entire passage of about 6-8 seconds sums up the sort of game he plays. He has the physical strength to outmuscle players on the boards and in the corners. He has the speed to get past his man. He has the hands and the shooting ability, he has the hockey sense to keep calm in the pressure situations and he gives his all, all of the time.

Connolly was given a lot of trust by Sheppard; used across all lines in all situations. He was on powerplay and penalty kill and then was given the alternate captaincy. When you think that the Bison’s other lettered on ice leaders were a little bit more experienced than he was, that’s a big place to be as a young player. It was said on this blog he would excel in the role and he did.

That’s not to say that Aaron doesn’t need seasoning. He’s still 20 after all. It’s really hard to forget that at times as it seems to have been around for ages. Ultimately another year at EPL level will not harm Connolly’s overall development and quality. He will have another year where he’ll be playing big minutes in all key situations with a chance to press on and get even more points in a really competitive league. He has the tools to play at a higher level and ultimately you’d hope teams in the EIHL are at least keeping tabs on him to see how he does. By the time September 2015 rolls around he’ll be 22 after 3 and a bit years of solid EPL ice time and has the potential to be one of the league’s premier British players. The club and Aaron made it known that he’d received offers from elsewhere so that Connolly has returned for another go around is a positive indication of what the club is offering at the moment.

A year older and a year wiser, the potential for this year to be even better for Connolly is definitely there. The cast around him is not 100% set so it’s hard to make too many predictions with regards to linemates or even whether he’ll retain the A on his jersey. What we can predict? You’ll certainly be seeing and hearing a lot about him this season.

Welcome back, Aaron.

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