Editor’s note: During the summer of 2012, the New Haven Register ran a New Haven 200 series to commemorate its 200th anniversary. GameTimeCT.com will share high school related stories from that series periodically throughout the summer.
Longtime Hamden High boys’ hockey coach Lou Astorino, who instilled a strong military style of play that routinely produced wins and state titles, was simply known as “Coach” in Hamden hockey circles.
He was also called an icon, an institution and a legend.
Astorino, who passed away on June 19, 2006, at age 77 following a six-year bout with Parkinson’s disease, coached the Green Dragons from 1960-87, winning 11 state titles and one national title in 1976.
Astorino’s forte was his disciplinary style that featured a “my way or the highway” philosophy. Tough, grueling workouts and practices took their toll on players, but the results produced a winning tradition second to none.
His tough coaching style was the result of his days as a Marine in the 1940s.
“Lou was the first guy to bring a military concept to Hamden athletics,” said current Hamden coach Bill Verneris, who played for Astorino from 1975-77 and was a member of the national title team that was captained by Harry Scoble and Charlie Molloy. “The regimen he created for Hamden hockey was a work mystique that wasn’t seen around here. Your hair had to be a certain length or you couldn’t make the team. You had to obey his rules or you were gone. You always had to do well in school. You learned the value of hard work and conditioning.”
Verneris said among his most vivid memories were Hamden’s matchups with archrival West Haven.
“When we played West Haven in 1976 and 1977, it was at the Coliseum in front of 8,000 people,” Verneris said. “When the West Haven players saw our short haircuts it was an intimidating factor. Because of Lou they knew how focused we were and those games always turned out to be classics.”
In a story by the Register’s Jim Fuller after Astorino’s death, then-Hamden mayor Craig Henrici, who played for Astorino from 1968-71, said, “He was an institution. His winning percentage put Hamden on the map on a national level as far as high school hockey. He was totally committed to his players and his job. He was a strict disciplinarian. With his military background, he was as tough as nails. He worked you until you dropped. He played his system and didn’t vary from it. He was a tough cookie.”
His demand for a strong work ethic resulted in a 54-game winning streak from 1970-72 and a 45-game streak from 1973-75.
Former North Haven and Notre Dame-West Haven coach Mike Violano told Fuller in 2006, “Not only did I play against him when I was playing for West Haven, but when I was coaching with (former Notre Dame coach) John Albinger, I coached against him. He is in the same (legend category) as (late and former West Haven coach) Artie Crouse. He was one of those old-timers who played by the book. You do the little things, but they do it the right way.
“You respect the game, respect your fellow teammates. That respect goes way back; they don’t make them the way they used to. He always had a smile and would throw a little curveball for the West Haven-Hamden rivalry. The tension for those games was so thick, you could cut the ice in half. He would send letters to the Hamden players, saying they were from the West Haven players, saying, ‘We’re going to kick your butt.'”
Astorino won 10 state titles between 1964 and 1976 and his 11th came in 1986.
“For me, Lou was a great mentor and he was always a great motivator,” Verneris said. “He made you accountable for all your actions. He made more men out of boys than anyone I’ve ever been associated with in my life.”