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Junior captain John Gagliardi garnered All-Conference distinction for his performance as a defenseman with the Hand boys’ ice hockey team this year. (Photo courtesy of John Gagliardi )
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Hockey runs deep in the Gagliardi family. For John Gagliardi, it’s a sport he’s wanted to pursue since he was a child. John first stepped on the ice when he was five and went on to continue a family tradition with the Hand boys’ ice hockey squad.
“Hockey has been around my family as long as I can remember,” says John. “My older brother Paul played, and I just followed in his footsteps. He was the captain when I was a freshman, which was a cool experience for both of us. My uncle Brian Courtmanche was the coach of Hand’s first-ever state championship team. He has three kids and they all play hockey, so the sport is in my family.”
Now, John is a junior at Hand who plays defense for the Tigers and also leads the team as a captain. John takes great pride in perfecting his game as a hockey player.
“It’s hard to pinpoint only one favorite aspect of the game since it appeals to me in so many ways, but something I’ve always loved is the speed and physicality of hockey,” John says. “Hockey and the way it’s played is so unique compared to other sports, and I’ve always loved that.”
John came into his junior year with a new level of offensive aggressiveness that translated to more points for him. After posting two goals with six assists as a sophomore, John scored six goals and dished out 19 assists on his way to earning All-SCC/SWC Division II Second Team honors this season. Along the way, John helped Head Coach Brian Gonsalves’s squad finish the year with an impressive record of 18-3-1.
“John took tremendous strides this year both on the ice and in our locker room,” says Gonsalves. “Gags took his leadership role as captain very seriously from the moment he was elected by his teammates. I know he puts a lot of pressure on himself to perform and lead, but I had the confidence he would find his way and be a great leader. He was the calming force in our locker room.”
Hand recorded several big victories throughout the recent season. John says that his favorite moment of the year came when the Tigers notched a 4-3 overtime victory against Mount St. Charles in Rhode Island.
“Being fortunate enough to play against such a storied and iconic program in such a historic rink with banners upon banners hanging on the wall was really cool,” says John. “Being able to come back from [being] down in the game and pull off a win in overtime in an exciting game is something that has stuck with a lot of our guys. The fact that we were the only Connecticut team to beat them...also makes it extra special and gave us more confidence going forward.”
John credits his relationship with Coach Gonsalves as a driving force behind his success. John knows that he can always go to Gonsalves about anything related to hockey or otherwise.
“Coach Gonsalves is a tremendous coach and an even better person,” John says. “I have a great amount of respect for him in how he’s been able to come in and turn this program around from where it was my freshman year and accomplish so much already in such a short period of time. Something great is that everyone on our team understands how much he cares about us and our program. And in return, he gets the respect back that he deserves, and that dynamic goes a long way.”
John says that going up against top offensive threats like teammates Tatum Fitzmaurice and Joey DeAngelis in practice every day has helped him become a better defenseman. John knows that there are many benefits when every member of the team pushes each other to perform their best.
“To improve my game, I do a lot of different things, from shooting pucks to lifting weights to conditioning to stay in shape, while trying to get on the ice as much as possible. But the biggest thing to me is training and working hard with my teammates,” John says. “For me especially, when I’m going against Tatum or Joey in practice, who are two of the top players in the state, that level of competition in practice makes me better.”
On the heels of two great campaigns, John and the Tigers have high hopes for what they can achieve next season. John wants to finish his high school career by helping Hand take home a state title.
“Our expectation for next year is a state championship,” says John. “It was our goal this year and, unfortunately, we weren’t able to play out the rest of the season to try to achieve it, but nothing changes from last season—it’s state championship or bust for our team. We know what we have here, which is an incredibly talented, dedicated, and hardworking group that can get the job done, regardless of the circumstances.”
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