Seven months ago, the ink of my first column in this space had yet to dry. But somehow I already knew the name Bo Hickey.
For working within the realm of New Canaan sports, you have no choice.
It was early February and Hickey's Rams were eagerly awaiting puck drop at Darien Ice Rink, the go-ahead signal they needed to test themselves against 2013 state finalist Notre Dame-West Haven. Settling into the musty press box high above the south goal, I watched his group stake a second-period lead, take his harsh barks from the bench when the Green Knights climbed back and eventually fend off a power play as time expired to win 3-2.
The New Canaan bench then spilled out on the ice in jubilation, as if to celebrate a postseason victory. It was, after all, an important win.
The Rams had officially gone unbeaten in nine straight games and twice taken down a perennial state power. But Hickey, now accompanying his players on the ice for post-game handshakes, strode behind them with a steady march that gave no hint as whether he had just endured a win or a loss.
After 20 years in the rink, you've more or less seen it all from end line to end line.
Now outside his locker-room, I introduced myself and proceeded to pose rather run-of-the-mill questions about the game's progression, its finish and most influential players. He kindly gave complete answers, ones entirely focused on the contributions of the players. Lastly, I asked what was behind New Canaan's recent run and, more specifically, the explosion of its offense, which had previously been dormant against top teams like Notre Dame-West Haven.
Sporting a wide grin complemented by a visible wad of chewing tobacco, he let out:
"It's been a long con."
And with those five words, Hickey had unknowingly lived up to each piece of his reputation.
The gruff exterior. The constant concentration on his kids. And the one-liners.
Both in print and in memory, I had my first Bo Hickey story.
Now admittedly, this tale of our first interaction hardly, if at all, compares to the many legendary Bo Hickey tales told far and wide by players, coaches and media alike. As told by these same people, many stories leave their listeners in stitches. Others are dropped into disbelief.
But the point here is anyone who's come across Hickey during his 20 years of leading Rams hockey or more than 30 seasons aiding New Canaan football, ultimately leaves with a story. And following his announced retirement Monday, all of these accounts are about to come forth--as they should.
Known as a coach ever intent on holding his players accountable to him, Hickey was a man also revered by those to whom he was responsible.
"The work that he's done in his career with young men is something that is going to be his legacy," New Canaan athletic director Jay Egan told the New Canaan Advertiser. "He's honest with young people; everybody that plays for him loves him, and they do because he's authentic and honest. He's a very caring individual. That's not always the first impression people get of Bo, but when the chips are down and you need something, there's not a better person."
Longtime football headman Lou Marinelli, who employed Hickey as an assistant for decades until recent seasons, shared that while most appreciate the humor of the more well-known Hickey stories, even those close to him will never know the depths of the tales of his giving.
"The thing about Bo is he's always about the kids. No one will ever know how much money he willingly took out of his own pocket for his program," Marinelli said. "I can't tell you the number of kids in tough spots he gave jobs to. He always went out of his way to make sure a kid was taken care of. He's wonderful."
From a pure sports perspective, Hickey will go out as a champion. New Canaan boys hockey claimed the 2014 FCIAC championship last March, upsetting rival Darien at Stamford's Terry Conners Ice Rink 5-2. Fittingly, that rink is the same place where he said good-bye to his players Monday, sharing it was just "time."
Moving forward, it reasons that no matter how much time passes or additional championship trophies are handed out, Hickey will be remembered as a champion. And at the very least, whether through story or record book, Bo Hickey is a name those in the world of New Canaan sports could never, ever forget.