Hockey: Connett recognized for charitable actions by the NA3HL
Brandon Connett performed well under pressure when all eyes were on him. That's what led him to a 39-goal season and an NA3HL second-team selection while playing for the Alexandria Blizzard. However, when nobody was looking, that's where he shined.
Connett won the NA3HL Community Service Award with his help in the Alexandria hockey community, Minnesota Special Hockey and other volunteer events throughout the season.
"When I came into this season, I told Jeff (Crouse), my head coach, that this is a goal I have," Connett said. "Obviously, I wanted to have a successful season, but this is something I wanted to shoot for. There have only been two other Blizzard players who have won this, and I was honored to be a part of that list."
Garrett Skinner won the Blizzard's first community service award during the 2012-13 season before Aaron Ryback took home the honor in the 2014-15 season. The Blizzard's dedication to volunteerism paved the way for these players to make a difference.
"I worked out a schedule with Jeff where I could do everything I could possible to get it," Connett said. "There were some Saturdays, even on game days where I'd go skate with Jeff's mite team. I also went to Park Rapids to help out with their hours. I’d sit on the bench and fill up waters or fill in as a ref if they needed it."
Connett went above and beyond his planned volunteer hours. In his free time, he took opportunities to skate with youth teams at all levels in the Alexandria Youth Hockey Association.
"I skated with everybody because it was fun," Connett said. "Before the season started, Jeff ran a couple of youth clinics. He asked me if I wanted to come help out with the boys and girls, and that's where it started for me this year. I loved it."
The AYHA saw what Connett contributed to its young skaters and presented him with the inaugural Service Award at its year-end banquet.
Connett's reach extended past youth hockey. He spent time with Alexandria's Minnesota Special Hockey team, where he organized practices and pushed players on sleds. Connett also took part in the Alzheimer's Walk and served dinner at the Alexandria Senior Center. In the classroom, Connett helped with an after school program with elementary students around town.
"There are so many great people in Alexandria that I had the pleasure to meet," Connett said. "All of them wanted to talk to me about what my future plans for hockey are, and I could see how much the kids looked up to us. People in Alexandria made me feel like a celebrity, and that's a pretty cool feeling as a kid who came here to play juniors."
Not only does Connett hope he left an impression on the people and organizations he gave his time to, but also future Blizzard players coming into the system. When he came to Alexandria two seasons ago, he looked up to players like Ryback and Skinner. Now he hopes that players want to be like him.
"I remember what it was like being one of those kids who saw a high school player or an older guy skate with me," Connett said. "In that situation, you're a coach, and all of those kids look up to you. You have to be out there with a positive mind and give them the best experience. The better time I have with it, the better time it is for them out there. I really hope I inspired more people to do the same."
Even though his time in Alexandria is over, Connett won't stop making an impact. He plans on contributing whenever he's able in the Menomonie, WI community at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.
"Making an effort to help out the hockey community and give back to the game was one of the greatest choices I've ever made," Connett said. "I've made lifelong friends doing this, and I can't wait for what's next."