BY: Brittany Burke
Last Friday night and despite it being the end of summer with the heat sitting still in the muggy air, droves of cars fill a Cromwell parking lot with boys and men a like filing out holding what could be mistaken for football bags (the sport of the upcoming season) but as they head toward the Champions Skating Center it is apparent that football pads are the last thing to fill their duffels.
The end of summer may be looming and the start of football season may only be weeks away, but the sport of hockey never ended for those who love it.
Even though multiple leagues and teams play at the Champions Skating Center, owned and operated by former Hartford Whaler, Bob Crawford, it is Sixth Annual Pro Hockey Camp Scrimmage that fills the bleachers and area surrounding the ice.
“Six years ago Pete Asadourian started this camp for guys who, right before they leave for school or whatever team they’re on get together and train … we have the head coach from Yale [Keith Allain] come out and worked with us,” said Joe Dabkowski, former CCSU hockey player and current Danbury Whaler. “It’s all for us to get together push each other to get better and to get ready … so after the week we work out, we train and we skate throughout the whole week, then on Friday we put this game together, this scrimmage together for all the guys.”
As the players skate on to the ice clad with red and green jerseys more than one name looks familiar to the fans watching eagerly, but it is Joe Dabkowski who takes his position on the red team’s bench that looks recognizable, at least to anybody from CCSU.
Dabkowski is the former co-captain of the CCSU Blue Devils hockey team and American Collegiate Hockey Association Division II standout.
After graduating in 2010 he thought his hockey career was going to end with the Blue Devils, but an opportunity to go out for a new level A club called the Danbury Whalers proved him wrong.
“I’m very grateful for it I’ve loved playing hockey since I was a little kid it’s all I wanted to do,” said Dabkowski. “There’s was a point in time when I was choosing colleges and where it looked like college would be it for me but things happen … I worked at it, I didn’t give up at it. I had the opportunity at Danbury which worked out perfect for me. So now I take advantage of that opportunity. It’s very humbling to see all the hard work finally paid off and it makes me want to work harder.”
After his first year with the Whalers, Dabkowski was signed early in the summer for his second season, returning to Danbury and continuing his professional career. The Whalers were arguably the most popular team in the Federal Hockey League and continue to garner a larger fan base.
Now, two seasons after his final season at CCSU he skates on to the ice wearing green hockey pants with the Danbury “DW” insignia and the number four, which he hasn’t worn in competitive play since CCSU, after donning the number 20 during the Whalers’ inaugural season.
What’s unique about this hockey scrimmage is it is a mix of collegiate and professional players. On the ice with Dabkowski is his Whalers teammates Nick Niedert, JD Gordon and Adam Blanchette.
Dabkowski’s team was captained by Ron Hainsey of the National Hockey League Winnipeg Jets while he went up against Nick Bonino of the Anaheim Ducks and Kris Newbury, who plays for the New York Rangers farm team in Hartford, the CT Whale.
The green team might have trounced the red team 6-2, but Dabkowski notched his team’s first goal. The scrimmage was far from serious play, it was meant more to showcase the players, let them meet the fans and put an end to the week-long Pete Asadourian Pro Hockey Camp.
Most importantly, the scrimmage helped the athletes start to get back in to game shape before the season officially starts in October. For Dabkowski he’ll call the Danbury Ice Arena home for the next season, beginning on Oct. 28, proving that hard work actually does pay off.
“It gives me a sense of pride knowing even though I played club hockey I’m still at level where some Division I athletes aren’t,” said Dabkowsi. “So it doesn’t matter where I came from, I’m playing at a very high level, a level I wanted to get to.”