Building the Herd – Aaron Connolly

#63 Aaron Connolly

Position: Forward

Born: Northfleet, Kent

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 5th May

Hail to the chief; title winning captain Aaron Connolly (right) returns to the Herd for 2016/17

Hail to the chief; title winning captain Aaron Connolly (right) returns to the Herd for 2016/17. (c) 5 Hole Photography

After a few weeks of waiting, Bison head coach Doug Sheppard has started off the roster announcements for the 2016/17 season with the return of captain, Aaron Connolly.

The soon to be 23 year old Connolly became the first Basingstoke captain since the club changed its name to the Bison to lift the league title trophy. 2015/16 was also an EPL career year in both goals and points for the Kent born forward as he recorded 24 goals and 24 assists in 52 EPL games along with 38 penalty minutes as the Bison secured their third trophy in three seasons. Connolly picked up player’s player and supporter’s player of the season at the club’s end of season awards as well as the Edjis Brahamnis Trophy for Banners On The Wall’s player of the year.

Connolly started his junior career in Gillingham with Invicta, making his senior hockey debut with the Dynamos before moving to Essex and joining the Chelmsford Chieftains. After a productive season in the ENL with the Chieftains, Connolly signed a 2-way deal with Chelmsford and Slough Jets. After a flying first part of the season, Connolly moved to the Jets full time in 2011 and stay for the next 2 and half years, picking up an EPL Cup and Playoff winners medal in the process.

After a lack lustre and injury hit 2012/13, Aaron moved from Berkshire to join former Jets coach Doug Sheppard at the Bison and was immediately in the thick of the action. Aaron ended the season as alternate captain after the departure of Joe Miller to Telford and registering his first 40 point EPL campaign as the Bison ended the club’s silverware drought with the cup and playoff double, capped off by Connolly scoring the empty net goal in Coventry to start off the celebrations.

After the departure of Nicky Chinn at the end of the 2014/15 season, Connolly was named captain of the Bison and responded in emphatic fashion with his personal best year. Unfortunately for the Bison skipper, the season was cut short and he was forced to collect the league title in his suit after a hit from MK Lightning defenceman Maarti Järventie left him with a fractured skull. However Connolly confirmed to the Basingstoke Gazette that he has been cleared to return for next season.

Aaron is also a former GB junior international having played at u18 level and captained the GB under 20s.

The first really good bit of news is that after a horrendous injury, Aaron Connolly will be back on the ice at all this season. The next good bit is that he’s back in Basingstoke for next season. This is an obvious, easy bit of PR for the Bison to start off the roster announcements with Connolly; a popular player with the players and fans who will instantly put a smile on the faces of Herd fans.

It’s really easy to be high on Aaron Connolly, especially on this blog where myself along with a panel of experts named him as our Bison player of the year but a lot of the time it is rather warranted and it really is after last year. Coming off a year where the club won nothing when they had 2 titles to defend, a drop in points and then gets named club captain to boot. It wouldn’t have been within the realms of possibility to predict that Connolly could have been swamped. Within the realms of possibility, yes but something that would actually happen? Not really.

In the paper, Connolly alluded to the fact that being captain of the team is easy at times because of all the leaders in the room. This is true but Connolly deserves some credit for being able to make his leadership style work in that dressing room. As one of the younger guys in the room, he’s earned the respect of everyone by being vocal but backing it up with a first class work ethic and producing with that last one being really important. It’s all well and good talking a good game but Connolly consistently plays a good game with it. 3 consecutive 20 goal seasons really means that despite arguably getting lost behind the flash of a Long or a Greener, that the discussion needs to be had about whether Connolly is a top tier EPL Brit. He has obviously had a really good supporting cast, he was one of 9 Bison Brits that scored 20 points and over last season so yes this team is more than the sum of its parts but you can’t simply write off all of those points as just happening to be in the right place at the right time.

I said last summer that last season would be a learning curve for Connolly as he learned to adjust to his new position as the head of the team but it was a curve that he sprinted up then danced at the top of with a big shiny thing in his hand. It’s hard to really theorise past that at this point because we really don’t know what Sheppard is going to do. We assume that most of last season’s team will be back but that’s not been confirmed. We don’t know what alterations will be made to a championship winning squad. What we do know is that this is a really good start.

Welcome back, captain.

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