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Year-round sports shape Hopkins' development

Posted 2 years 148 days ago ago by David Fine

Affiliate goalie prepares for baseball season

David Fine/Kearney, Neb. – There was a moment this season when two worlds collided, and it happened at goaltender Connor Hopkins’ favorite place to watch baseball: Fenway Park. The lifelong Red Sox fan from Malden, Massachusetts settled between the pipes for an outdoor hockey game this January and keyed Belmont Hill Prep School to a 4-1 victory over Tabor Academy.
“Our equipment manager worked hard getting us special uniforms,” said Hopkins, who sported a red, white and blue winter hat atop his white mask and maroon and blue jersey. “I heard you could have trouble tracking the puck outdoors. Our team had a great game and I had no problems.” 

The Storm affiliate netminder is, in some ways, equally passionate about baseball and hockey. Hopkins says he started on the diamond and the ice around the same time. At Belmont Hill, he’s a two-sport athlete, netminding in the fall and winter and playing catcher and first base by spring and summer.

“My brother and I, we also played lacrosse,” Hopkins pointed out. “Hockey and baseball are our two big ones. Most coaches agree playing multiple sports makes you a better all-around athlete. I play fall hockey, then Belmont Hill hockey in the winter, Belmont baseball in the spring and then summer baseball. It’s a grind going from a varsity hockey to baseball season.”

The sophomore takes a deep breath; he just finished a double-session of baseball practices that day. After Belmont Hill baseball is done, his summer team travels around New England and the mid-Atlantic region.

Hockey still his number 1 
There’s a couple of caveats to Hopkins’ baseball “career”, and the first is Storm coaches consider the 17-year-old (2000 birth year) a future USHL goalie. In 23 games with Belmont Hill, Hopkins pitched a 1.86 goals against average and .913 save percentage. The squad finished 20-6-4 record with the #5 ranking in New England. The Yale commit is the only netminder on Tri-City’s affiliate list.

“His baseball translates to catching pucks in net,” said Storm Assistant Coach Taylor Nelson with a wry smile. Nelson, like Hopkins, played catcher growing up in Saskatchewan.

“I had the privilege to watch Connor at the U-16 Festival with USA Hockey. He’s going to be a really, really good goaltender in this league and I truly believes he loves the position. It feels like he doesn’t really panic between the pipes. His calming presence off the ice translates well to him on the ice.” 

Listen to Nelson explain why Hopkins can be a USHL goalie

It’s a mutual feeling for Hopkins. “Coach Nelson and I have a good relationship. It was nice going into [2016 Storm] Main Camp knowing someone. Since the camp, we’ve talked a couple of times on the phone. He’s been pushing me to send him game clips so he can help. This is my time at the end of the season to go over the tape. He’s such a great goalie guy, I can tell.”

“We can maybe get a FaceTime in and watch some film,” said Nelson. “[Video is] a great tool.”

Nelson has aided the Storm’s recent goaltending fraternity. He watches video and runs netminder practices before the team sessions. Tri-City has had three main-stay goaltenders since Nelson’s arrival in 2015 - Jake Kielly, Dayton Rasmussen and Eric Dop. All have improved statistically under his tutelage.

“The goaltenders I’ve worked with here have been extremely receptive to [watching video],” Nelson said. “It gives us an opportunity to focus on a point they don’t feel as comfortable and then we can go work on those things. We use it as a tool for learning and improving but we also use it as a confidence builder.”

Tri-City’s 2017 Main Camp is in June and Hopkins has to balance Storm camp and signal-calling behind the plate. He emphasizes baseball is fun and hockey is his calling.

“I’ll take a month break from baseball, skating up until Main Camp,” Hopkins said. “Once the summer gets going, I’ll skate at Merrimack College twice a week and play in a pro league down in Foxboro. Then summer ball in between that. There’s really no stopping.”

“We have to play it by ear,” Nelson said, discussing whether Hopkins could crack Tri-City’s roster as soon as next season. “He’s got great size [6-foot-1, 190 pounds] and good feet.” 

The discussion shifts back to baseball. Belmont Hill’s baseball season begins on April 1 as the New England snow thaws (Winter Storm Stella dumped about a foot on some Boston suburbs two weeks ago). Hopkins acknowledges the diamond is a temporary escape from fast-paced, end-to-end hockey.

“When I leave Belmont Hill, then it’s time to hang up the cleats. I’m enjoying it while it lasts. At that point it’ll be time to focus on hockey.”

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On Friday, March 31, Tri-City presents “Dash 4 Cash”, presented by NebraskaLand National Bank, and begins a weekend home set against Chicago. During intermissions, fans and schools will try to grab as much “cash” as they can in an allotted time frame. Schools will compete for $1,000 during one break and fans will grab up to $250 in the next intermission. It’s also a $5 Kids Friday and all players will be available after the game for autographs. 

The Storm honors the best fans in the USHL on “Fan Appreciation Night”, presented by the Nebraska Lottery, against the Steel on Saturday, April 1 at 7:05 p.m. There will be a special postgame skate.

Tri-City completes the three-in-three against Sioux City Sunday at 3:05 p.m.

Listen to all games on The Breeze 94.5 FM.

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