Two of the top seniors on the revitalized Nottingham-Hamilton West co-op ice hockey team are moving on to play college athletics.
Interestingly enough, neither will play men’s hockey.
Connor Luckie is headed to Rowan College at Burlington County for baseball, while Kathryn Truban is bound for Division III Adrian College in Michigan to play for its nationally ranked women’s hockey team.
Different directions for sure, but the two came together to provide a memorable season for Nottingham.
Luckie, now focused on his final year as West catcher, capped a stellar four years by finishing among the CVC scoring leaders with 22 goals and 11 assists this season. For his career he finished with 42 goals and 31 assists, and his intimidating physical presence may have been more impressive than his scoring.
“You can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen Connor get knocked over,” first-year coach John Patterson said. “Guys try and check him to take him off the puck and they’re the ones that end upside down. He is just an absolute truck out there.”
As opposed to smooth-skating Truban, whose slick passing led to 16 assists this year along with 3 goals. The Nottingham senior played just two years for the team, as club hockey took up much of her time.
“Pound for pound Kathryn Truban is probably the best player in Mercer County,” claimed Patterson, who coached Truban on two previous club teams. “She’s going to play at Adrian College, I know earlier in the season they were ranked fifth in D III. How many guys in the CVC are going to play DIII men’s hockey?
“You’ll have some play juniors and some play club hockey. There are some fantastic male players, but you’ve got a girl that’s running out there at 120 pounds against dudes literally twice her weight. She goes into the corners with absolutely no fear, she’s as smart as you can be with the puck. I have no doubts ever about her ability to see the game and orchestrate the game.”
Nottingham orchestrated its way to a 7-11-1 record and first Mercer County Tournament win since the merger in 2012-2013. In the Northstars MCT quarterfinal, they trailed six-time defending champion Hun by only 2-1 entering the third period before wearing down. Nottingham was 1-46 its previous three seasons.
Much of the success had to do with standout junior goalie David Thompson. But with Truban available on a regular basis and playing on the same line with Luckie, it added another dimension to the offense.
“She brings everything to us,” Luckie said. “She didn’t start playing until last year but she’s made a huge impact on this team by just having another hockey mind out there that actually knows the game of hockey. We have a lot of chemistry based off the fact we’ve been playing hockey our whole lives.”
Luckie is well known for his baseball prowess and is considered one of Mercer County’s top defensive catchers. Folks are somewhat startled to discover he has played hockey since age 6.
Luckie played club with the Mercer Chiefs, but gave it up entering his freshman year to focus on baseball. He decided last year to attend RCBC and soon after, his hockey/baseball teammates Kiefer Goss and Nick Diaz decided to follow.
“I love the game of hockey but from the competitive aspect I like baseball more, so hockey is just fun for me,” Luckie said. “I don’t look at it as competitive anymore, I just like playing here.”
Watching Luckie play, it sure looks competitive. He is a whirling dervish on the ice with skills to go along with his physical presence, and was a Northstar captain along with Trevor Bolton.
“He leads us in scoring, he leads us in terms of attitude on ice,” Patterson said. “He sets the standard. You almost literally can’t pull him off the ice. He wants to get out there and compete every single shift and every second. Honestly, I feel he would play every second of the game if I didn’t take him out and force him to take time off. He’s just a kid who loves to come out and play the game. He’s our offense. Everything runs through him.”
Except when he is running through opponents.
“It messes with their minds when I’m just bodying them off the puck,” said Luckie, who stands over 6-feet with a thick build. “They don’t want to come near me, I just throw my body all around. Why not?”
Why not indeed. Truban loves seeing him out there.
“He puts his effort out every night to score goals,” she said. “He does everything he can. There’s nothing more you can ask from him. He’s very passionate.”
Luckie and his teammates used that passion to protect Truban last year. Truban is one of several girls playing in the CVC, and her bodyguards liked looking out for her.
“Absolutely,” Luckie said. “Last year we got in a huge brawl because of it. She asked us to stop fighting this year, she wants to defend herself. She doesn’t want us getting suspended. But if someone runs after her, they got a target on their back.”
And while that attitude may seem chivalrous, the Northstars were being more than just gallant. They were also protecting one of their key players. Truban’s older brothers, Alex and Peyton, were both strong players for Nottingham and she would go watch them and want to be like them.
“I guess you could say that,” she said. “But in my own way.”
Which way is that?
“Be better than them,” Truban said with a grin.
She will be the first of the siblings to play in college, as Adrian was ranked No. 10 in NCAA Division III with a 17-3-1 record as of Feb. 12. College hockey has long been a Truban goal.
“I really loved the campus,” she said. “It’s a very small campus, you get a good education. I like to know my professors. They treat the players very well. They have seven hockey teams (counting club) at the college; everyone is together.”
Truban began playing at age 5 for Lawrence and moved to the Princeton Tiger Lilies, the Rockets and her current team, the Junior Flyers. Patterson coached her at Lawrence and Princeton.
“When you see players like that you just know this is a kid that’s going to play at the next level,” Patterson said. “She had poise and leadership. Anyone with older siblings always has those battles at home. Her brothers were good players but she’s the one taking it to the next level and I’m so proud of her.”
Obviously, playing with the boys brought Truban into a different environment. The speed and physicality is more intense after competing against girls her own size in club.
“It’s faster, you gotta worry about who’s coming after you,” she said. “I definitely have to keep my head up more.”
As a growing legion of girls play on high school boys’ teams, Truban explained why she decided to take that risk knowing how much size she gives up. She wanted the challenge.
“Hockey’s not like any other sport,” she said. “You’re constantly skating, you need a lot of stamina. You gotta be able to skate and stick handle. It’s not like soccer where you just kick a ball. It’s more skills and you have to be more aware of everything. It’s very fast. It’s a lot of everything combined.”
Those are the same things that keep Luckie glued to the game. He hopes playing baseball at RCBC will propel him to a four-year college, where he would think about playing club hockey if it were offered.
Patterson would love to see how much better Luckie would have been had he stayed with club.
“Connor is still a tremendous hockey player,” the coach said. “If he kept playing Tier One hockey, the sky would be the limit for that kid.”
As it is, Truban will fly into the hockey skies while Luckie tries to soar on the diamond.
For one memorable year, however, they combined as a force to be reckoned with in helping a program rise from the ashes.