Zackary Lublin became the team manager for the West Haven boys hockey team this season.
He does all the usual things any team manager might do, like filling the water bottles before a game or handing out sweatshirts. But Lublin, 19, was born with hydrocephalus, a condition in which fluid accumulates in the brain, typically in young children, enlarging the head and sometimes causing brain damage.
Lublin and his twin brother, Ryan, were born premature. Ryan, who does not have hydrocephalus, had been the Blue Devils’ team manager for four seasons before graduating last year. He is now at the University of New Haven.
When Ryan graduated, he suggested to West Haven coach Joe Morrell that Zackary should take over as team manager. Morrell, who has developed a special bond and friendship with Zackary, loved the idea.
“I thought that was the greatest thing for my brother,” Ryan said.
If you attend a West Haven game at Bennett Rink and see a guy sitting behind the bench, mimicking Morrell’s every move, that’s Zackary. He’s known as Joe’s Shadow.
“When Ryan was the team manager and the Lublin family started coming to our games, I noticed Zackary behind the (glass) mimicking everything I did,” Morrell said. “When I yelled something to the team, he would yell it too. When I made a motion with my hand, he would do the same thing. Everyone else around the bench noticed it too. When we met, we immediately became friends.”
Lublin has been a student at West Haven High since 2010 in the Area Cooperative Educational Services (ACES) Collaborative Program and is integrated in gym and music classes with the other students. He looks forward to seeing Morrell in gym class, as well as the other coaches who work at the high school.
“I like sitting behind Coach (during games); I like helping,” Lublin said. “I like coach Joe, we’re buddies.
Before a recent game against Fairfield Prep, the Lublin family — which also includes mother Robin, father Adam and older brother Joshua — was sitting in Morrell’s office. The Westies coach was giving a pep talk to his team in the locker room. When Morrell walked back into his office, a huge smile appeared on Zackary’s face and he hugged his buddy.
“Zackary looks forward to seeing Joe every day in gym class,” Robin said. “In 2010, I was working in the office at Bennett Rink and Joe Morrell told me he had Zackary in his class. Ryan became the manager of the varsity hockey team and a player for the JV team at the time. Because of Ryan’s involvement with the team, we came to all of the games.
“Zackary became fascinated with the coaches, especially Joe. He mimics his hand signals and yells to the kids to skate or shoot at every game. Zackary has to sit right behind the West Haven bench and gives the coaches a high-five every time they come to the bench. He also loves to watch the Zamboni in between periods.”
Zackary’s mother said he was “over the moon with excitement” when he found out he was going to be team manager.
“He couldn’t wait for the season to start, and he is so proud to wear the West Haven hockey warm-up suit that the Penalty Box Club (the team’s booster club) provided him,” Lublin said. “He looks forward to attending every game, not so much for the game itself, but so that he can see ‘his coaches.’”
Zackary’s father said his son has come a long way.
“It’s been amazing and mind-boggling how far Zackary has come along,” Adam said. “As a baby, due to a lack of motor skills, I would have to tie him in his high chair or he would flop over. He was in a walker until he was 14. This experience with the hockey team has been so special. The West Haven hockey team and Penalty Box Club have been so supportive and the comaraderie is unbelievable.”
Soon after Zackary was born, a shunt needed to be placed into one of the ventricles of his brain when he was just 3 months old.
“Since then he has had multiple surgeries, including a hernia repair, tubes in his ears and several eye muscle surgeries,” his mother said. “He suffered many delays, including physical and fine motor. He didn’t walk until he was over 2 and didn’t speak until he was 6½ years old. He required physical, occupational and speech therapy for many years.
“He went to preschool at Mackrille and went to kindergarten at Pagels. We decided to have him attend ACES Village School in North Haven. Zackary flourished with the expert care and support he received from everyone at Village. He was known as the “mayor” of Village because of his engaging personality and amazing social skills. When he left Village, we decided to send him to West Haven High to the ACES Collaborative Program.”
West Haven captains Don Froehlich, Jake Lynch and Mike Savino said Lublin has become a great friend to the entire team. They say their teammates feel great knowing they are helping to make someone happy.
“Zackary is great,” Savino said. “Every time we’re in the locker room he comes in and dances around with everyone. It’s great to see him have so much fun. He always cheers for us and he’s one of our biggest fans.”
Morrell said Lublin has been involved with the team from Day 1 this season.
“He came to our ziti team dinner to kick off the season and he’ll be with us all the way to our last game, hopefully in the Division I championship game at Ingalls Rink,” Morrell said. “The Lublins are a great family and they will always be a part of the West Haven hockey family.”
SCC/SWC sets playoff schedule
Southern Connecticut Conference commissioner Al Carbone has announced the postseason schedule for the SCC/SWC boys hockey tournament.
It begins with the Division III semifinals on March 4 at the Milford Ice Pavilion at 6 and 8 p.m. The Division II semifinals will be at Bennett Rink on March 5 at 6 and 8 p.m. There are no semifinals for Division I.
The Division I and III championship games will be played on March 6 at Bennett. The Division II championship will be on March 7 at Bennett.
Dates and sites for the SCC girls tournament semifinals and championship game are to be determined.