Building the Herd – Aaron Connolly

#63 Aaron Connolly

Position: Forward

Born: Northfleet, Kent

Announced as signed: Bison season ticket night, 4th June

Back to go "bar dizzle"; Aaron Connolly is the new captain of the Basingstoke Bison. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Back to go “bar dizzle”; Aaron Connolly is the new captain of the Basingstoke Bison.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

So we come to the biggest of the recent batch of signings; the most recent returnee to the Bison’s forward ranks and the successor to Nicky Chinn as the Herd’s captain is Aaron Connolly. Speaking to Banners On The Wall, Connolly said “I’m very glad to be back with Basingstoke as it’s such a great organisation to play for. Being captain is an honour and I can’t wait to get started.”

22 year old Connolly returns for his third season with the Bison after joining the club in 2013. A fans favourite and well respected amongst his teammates and opponents alike, Connolly scored goals in both Bison trophy winning games in 2014 capping off the season with the empty net goal in the 2014 playoff final. He has scored 75 points in his 2 seasons in Basingstoke with 20 goals in each season.

Having started playing hockey in the Invicta junior system, Connolly moved to Chelmsford in 2008, making his debut in the Chieftains lineup in 2009 scoring an impressive 36 points in 36 games in his first full season of senior hockey. In his second season of senior hockey and after going over a point per game with Chelmsford, Connolly moved full time across to Berkshire to join Slough where he would stay till 2013. Connolly would play 101 games for Slough scoring 52 points as well as capturing the EPL Cup in 2011 and the playoffs in 2012 before being convinced to come to Basingstoke.

Connolly is also a former GB under 18 international and a former alternate and captain of the GB under 20s.

If you’re an outsider to this situation then it will look a little strange; a trophy challenging team with a raft of veteran players appoints a 22 year old as its captain. Anyone who has ever cast an eye over the Bison in terms of more than numbers on a page will understand why this has been done.

Connolly himself says in the video that this is a team full of leaders which is true. That said leadership has many different facets to it. It’s one of the reasons why I have near constantly said Kurt Reynolds never needed to be given a letter on his jersey because he’s best left to just play. However teams do need an on ice leader by virtue of the rules but also someone to be that voice and that face at the front of battle. I believe that Aaron has been chosen for a couple of reasons;

The first is that his entire senior career, Connolly has been incredibly vocal on the ice and on the bench. If you listen closely enough (and as I sit near the benches I get it nearly every week), the first person to try and gee the team up is Connolly. He is always trying to keep people going, to keep them focused on the job. When Joe Miller departed for Telford, one of the people that was instantly talked about as being a natural replacement as alternate captain was Connolly; a player who actively involved himself in driving the team forward at any opportunity be it by word or deed.

The other factor for me is this; when Nicky Chinn “retired”, the discussion instantly began as to who would replace him. A key thing for Sheppard is generally structure; whilst he shuffles the lines about like a croupier shuffles cards at a casino, there is always a game plan with him. With two established alternate captains, unless Sheppard was able to sign someone so established specifically to take the job of captaincy then it was generally going to fall to one of two men; Joe Baird or Aaron Connolly, last season’s alternates. The reasons for choosing one over the other are Sheppard’s but you get the idea; the logic pointed in this direction.

The captaincy adds a very different dimension to return of Connolly personally but not much to the team as a whole at first sight. Development as a league wide concept aside (though what better way to develop a 22 year old player by throwing him in the deep end as the skipper I suppose), this Bison core is well established now. With someone like Chinn leaving and the culture of the side not needing an obvious overhaul, the decision to look within for its next leader is an easy choice and a natural one to boot. Connolly is respected in the room and one of the team’s hardest working players. Why wouldn’t he be chosen, whatever his age?

Connolly the player, had an interesting 2014/15. There were times where, at least at home, he appeared to be somewhat snake bitten in front of the net. Often a play would not quite come off and Connolly would disappear down the side of the bench in the gap between Block C and Block D, take a moment then come back to the bench. The one thing that was never lacking, and never does lack from Connolly, is effort. It is I venture one of the main reasons why fans and players like him so much; on the ice he gives as much as he can. That’s not to say it’s always the most constructive of efforts. There are times when, like the Bison as a whole under Sheppard, Connolly works hard instead of working smart but at least he’s working. I’d much rather be having a discussion about a player who occasionally is too focussed on going hammer and tongs trying to make things happen with minimal success than someone who doesn’t care about what they’re doing.

I am very interested to see how Connolly reacts to the new pressures on top of his on ice role. Like Rounding yesterday, a lot depends on what he is going to be asked to do and that’s dependant on who Connolly is asked to play with. He is capable of playing as a scoring winger or as a checking line forward which means adjusting your expectations of him accordingly. If he’s put onto a checking/energy/insert your adjective here line, then you can’t criticise him if he doesn’t score 50 points in a season.

This season is going to be a learning curve in some ways for Connolly; yes it’s a well-established group, yes he’s part of the established leaders within that group but there’s a difference when you’re the one at the top of the pile. In the main, I don’t think it will cause him many issues. I am interested to see what happens when the team hits a patch of bad form and Connolly’s reaction to it but so little seems to phase him that I can’t imagine this new position will be an albatross around his neck. The famous saying is that the title doesn’t make the man, the man makes the title. Yes, being the man after someone like Nicky Chinn is a sizeable task but Connolly needs to not worry about the skates he is filling and forge his own path. I have very few doubts that this will be his intention.

Welcome back, Aaron. Sorry, skipper.


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