Christian La Croix of North Branford has developed the qualities that transform high school hockey players into elite competitors.
He leads by example, has the typical quickness and stick-handling skills that make him a force on both ends of the ice and great vision to be a step ahead of anticipated passes and plays.
And like all hockey players, including his teammates on Notre Dame-Fairfield, he doesn’t like to lose.
When the Lancers started the season 3-3, it was a frustrating feeling for the entire team. La Croix, a senior, was one of the strong voices who urged and pushed the team to work hard and make the rest of the season a memorable one…and it was.
The Lancers went 11-1-1 in their next 13 games to finish 14-4-1 and win the Southern Connecticut Conference/South-West Conference Division I regular-season crown. The Lancers qualified for the inaugural SCC/SWC Division I tournament and won the championship game 5-2 over Notre Dame-West Haven. La Croix scored a goal and was a big reason the Lancers outshot the Green Knights 41-32.
La Croix would go on to lead the Lancers to the Division I state semifinals where they lost 3-1 to Darien. The highlight of the state tournament for La Croix was scoring four goals in an 11-1 win over East Haven in the quarterfinals. ND finished the season 18-5-1.
For his effort, La Croix has been selected as the Register State Player of the Year.
“Christian was a terrific captain and very coachable,” Notre Dame-Fairfield coach Steve Hetherman said. “He led by getting to know each and every player on both the JV and varsity rosters. You should see the lunch tables. He led by being inclusive, by doing things like organizing street hockey games during half-days.
“I’m not sure he realized it at the time, but by including everyone, and getting to know the players more than just about hockey, his efforts made the team better. It made for better team chemistry.”
The strong finish to the season was special for La Croix.
“When we finished the season so strongly, it was more than rewarding,” La Croix said. “I think we really deserved it. I wasn’t too surprised by the turnaround because when you put in all the work that we did, you expect to get better.
“Our goal from the beginning of the season was to get better each week and keep pushing. The intensity and work ethic only grew as the season went on. Our coaches set forth a great system and as a team we kept working and working till we got it right. Our success was simply a testament to our hard work.”
La Croix ended up with 23 goals and 21 assists. In 86 games over his four-year career, he ended up with 435 shots on goal, 56 goals and 63 assists.
“There are a lot of very good hockey players out there, but Christian is very deserving,” longtime team statistician George Burr said in a recent interview. “His hockey contribution went beyond the goals and assists. He is a leader and did all the little things out there that don’t show up on the stat sheet.”
La Croix said he felt pressure the entire season.
“Even towards the end of the season I felt pressure,” La Croix said. “I knew as an older guy I had to step up and show some leadership. I knew if I expressed my passion and will to win to my teammates, they would then follow.”
La Croix is proud of two specific qualities he believes separates him from other players.
“There are so many great players in the state,” La Croix said. “But where I would say I am different is with my vision on the ice, but more importantly my leadership off the ice. I thought it was very important to lead by example away from the rink and I tried my best to do that.
“It’s a great honor to be named All-Area and All-State MVP and I’m very happy to receive these awards. I’ve put in a lot of work, so it’s always nice to get something back in return. While I’m very appreciative of the awards, at the end of the day all I really wanted was to share a state title with my teammates.”
When he isn’t volunteering for various clubs and organizations at Notre Dame, like campus ministry, La Croix focuses on playing hockey year round. He plans to play in college, but this fall he will play at a yet-to-be-decided prep school or in Junior hockey.
“Christian demonstrated ability, grit and focus as a hockey player, key elements that will help him get to the next level,” Hetherman said. “He worked hard to get better at each practice. Christian was a terrific leader and player. He will be missed at Notre Dame.”