Looking back to his freshman season with the Norwalk/McMahon co-op boys ice hockey team, Finn Cullen remembered something distinct about the locker room.
“We were playing at SoNo (Ice House) and our locker room was like a crate,” Cullen said. “The past couple of years, we’ve had our own actual locker room inside the rink. So that alone was a big addition.
“(The program) has definitely grown in every aspect.”
Cullen has been a big part of that growth.
A senior captain from Brien McMahon, Cullen reached a career milestone when he registered his 100th point during Norwalk/McMahon’s 6-3 victory over Staples in the FCIAC Div. II/III semifinals last Thursday.
He finished with 104 points for his career, with a high of 34 during his junior season last winter. This year, he reached 30 again in just 12 games, finishing with 104 for his career.
“It was a lot of hard work that paid off,” Cullen said. “My teammates and coaches allowed me to get there and get 100 points.”
“He was a beast for us this season,” Norwalk/McMahon coach Scott Raymond said. “He battled with two or three opponents this whole season and was still able to put up points and gather his team to put up W’s on the board. He is a true workhorse, a great person and a great student-athlete.”
Cullen was an assistant captain for two years before being named a captain this season and Raymond added that Cullen “truly became the leader I thought he would be when we selected him as a sophomore.”
Cullen said he plays on taking a gap year after graduation and will play Junior hockey an opportunity Raymond said he deserves.
The Norwalk/McMahon program has improved in many ways. During Cullen’s freshman and sophomore seasons, the team was 9-30-1 overall.
The last two years, Norwalk/McMahon is 17-15-1 and last year won its first postseason game since 2006 when they beat Milford 2-1 in the first round of the CIAC Div. III tournament. Cullen had an assist on then-senior Jed Boyrer’s game winning short-handed goal with 4:20 remaining.
Hopes were high after that, but it turned out to be the team’s last game of the season, as the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic led to all winter tournaments being canceled.
Losing a chance at a deep run in the playoffs made the team appreciate an abbreviated schedule this year, Cullen said.
“I’m just glad, and I’m sure all my teammates are too, that we got to play at all,” Cullen said. “It was pretty amazing how smooth everyone made it so that we were able to get our games and practices in.”
Norwalk/McMahon’s roster had just two seniors this season – Cullen and fellow captain Owen Ives – and went 5-7 overall, reaching the FCIAC’s DII/III final before falling to Westhill/Stamford 6-1. Their record included a 4-3 mark against DIII opponents.
“Reaching the final this season helps us to continue to build the program and makes a statement that our program is back as a D3 level contender,” Raymond said. “We were considered a young team this season. (We’re) only losing two players and have a bunch of young talent coming up through the ranks, which is great to see.
“I’m proud of our team – they battled through a lot – remote learning, limited practice is, limited schedule. I am looking forward to our program’s future.”
Cullen graduates with a lot of goals and assists under his belt, but he’s leaving the program in a good place.
“You make a lot of friendships on the team and especially with this group of guys and what we did this year,” Cullen said. “We powered through the early mornings and all the different regulations, jumping through hoops to play games, so everyone worked their butt off and it paid off.”