Building the Herd – Aaron Connolly

#63 Aaron Connolly

Position: Forward

Born: Northfleet, Kent

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 8th June

Aaron’s alright; Aaron Connolly returns to the Bison as captain for 2017/18’s adventure into NIHL 1 South.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

With other NIHL South 1 clubs making big player announcements, the Basingstoke Bison threw their own weight around by announcing the return of the club captain, Aaron Connolly.

A product of the Invicta and Chelmsford junior systems, 24 year old Connolly returns for his 5th season and what will be his 3rd as captain of the Bison. Connolly moved to the Bison from Slough in 2013 as a 20 year old and made an immediate impression on his team mates and the Basingstoke fans. Connolly was named an alternate captain in the wake of Joe Miller’s departure to Telford midway through the season and played a major role in the Bison lifting its two trophies that campaign. Connolly scored the first goal in the cup final second leg against Milton Keynes after just 20 seconds as well as the empty net goal in the playoff final victory over Manchester.

With Nicky Chinn’s (short lived) retirement announced at the end of 2014/15, Connolly was named the new captain of the Herd to start 2015/16 and had a superlative laden season as he captained the Bison to their first league title in 23 years as well as picking up the “coveted” BOTW player of the year trophy. Connolly’s season was cut short in the penultimate game of the regular season when a hit from behind from Milton Keynes defenceman, Martti Järventie fractured his skull meaning the captain had to pick up the league trophy in his street clothes.

He was involved in a spot of controversy in October last year as an altercation with Swindon player/coach Aaron Nell led to the Wildcats star forward injuring his shoulder and missing the remainder of the campaign. Although the season yielded a lower points total, Aaron continued to play his game his way as the Bison finished 3rd in the final EPIHL season and made the playoff semi-finals against Telford.

After his development in Kent and Essex, Connolly landed in the senior hockey proper with the Chieftains in the 2009/10 season where he went a point per game. The next season, a promising first half of the season saw Connolly move full time to Slough where he helped the Jets to EPL Cup success. Connolly played the next two full seasons with the Berkshire side, adding an EPL playoff success to his cup already won with the Jets.

A former GB under 18 and under 20 international, Connolly has played 297 games in the EPL regular season and playoffs. In 211 league and playoff games for the Bison, Connolly has tallied 164 points with 216 penalty minutes.

As soon as the Bison ended up in a league with Invicta and Chelmsford (albeit for a hot minute in the case of the later) there was always going to be rumours of a departure back that way for Connolly. Thankfully after a fruitful 4 years in Hampshire, Doug Sheppard has convinced the man sometimes called the heartbeat of the Bison to stay with the club on its newest venture.

From a Bison perspective, this announcement is good and easy to do PR. Arguably the most popular player in the team in the eyes of the fans, Connolly has a good reputation with his team mates as well. Given that the Herd announced the departures of Declan Balmer and the equally popular Ciaran Long yesterday, this is news that will very much soften the blow for the Herd’s fans.

Some people I know who aren’t Bison fans don’t like Aaron Connolly. They say that he’s over rated or, after the altercation with Nell, a thug. I think both of those are wrong. Firstly because the altercation with Nell started after Nell ended up interjecting in a fight he was the third man in to. The injury was unfortunate and the league was denied one of its best British players as a result.

As for Connolly being over rated, that’s a different kettle of fish. People who have had Connolly play against them seem to get two versions of him; they either notice him or they don’t. Bison fans (and Jets fans before them) waxed lyrical about his talents.

Some aspects of Connolly’s game are easy to see. He’s vocal, he’s high energy, he’s got a decent shot on him in a bit of space. Some aspects though mean that you have to watch him regularly to appreciate him. He’s not vocal a bit of a game, he’s vocal every game, all the time. He’s not high energy once in a blue moon; he’s constantly trying to make things happen every shift. I’ve accused him at times of working hard rather than working smart but he’s always working. He doesn’t score 25 goals every season, he has had quiet spells the last couple of seasons where points didn’t seem to want to come but out of nowhere he will score.

When he was made the captain back in 2015, we theorised on BOTW that hopefully it wouldn’t change Connolly’s game too much, that he wouldn’t feel the need to play “like a captain”. Thankfully for most Bison fans, Aaron Connolly’s way to play like a captain was to play like himself. The Bison as a unit have run off of his influence since he joined the club. When he was injured at the end of the title winning season, the Bison visibly missed him in the playoffs. When he was ejected in the semi-final this past season, the Bison visibly missed him. You don’t have to like him but you can’t deny the impact he has on one of the league’s best sides.

Welcome back, skipper.

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