As a freshman at Stamford Catholic, Pete Pinto got called up to play goalie during one varsity practice.
That day 40 years ago was the only time Pinto ever spent on the ice with legendary coach Mickey Lione, yet it is burned into his brain as if it just happened.
Pinto’s family would move to Westport and he finished his high school career playing hockey at Staples, never skating for Lione at Trinity.
Now, Pinto is being honored with the final Mickey Lione Jr. Award, given annually to the coach of the year from Trinity Catholic.
“Anytime you can be mentioned in the same sentence as Mickey Lione, it is a huge honor,” Pinto said. “In 1980, I was a freshman goalie and the varsity goalie was hurt so I got called up to practice. I spent 60 minutes with him in my entire life, but I will never forget his voice booming across the ice. He had an amazing presence and was obviously a great coach and legendary figure in Stamford hockey.”
Lione coached six state championship teams at Stamford/Trinity Catholic in baseball and hockey and had a combined record of 731 wins and 413 losses.
Making the honor even more special is that Pinto was the last man to ever coach the Crusaders hockey team this winter, making him the final person to receive the Lione Award.
The school is being closed and with it a tremendous sports history.
Pinto has been around Stamford hockey his entire life.
His father, Pete Pinto Sr., and uncle formed the Stamford Youth Hockey Association in 1973, known today as the Stamford Sharks.
Pinto grew up playing in Stamford, playing one year at Stamford Catholic before moving to Westport to play at Staples under coach Jody Grose.
Pinto took over the Trinity program from Grose’s son, Tucker Grose, who stepped down after the 2018-19 season.
When Pinto took over, he was not even sure he would have enough players to field a team as enrollment at Trinity Catholic continued to shrink.
As it was, the team was made up of just 10 players, with six players seeing the bulk of the ice time.
“These kids could have left. It had been a few tough years at Trinity and these kids were watching friends disappear from the school and watching the hockey team get smaller and smaller,” Pinto said. “The only reason we had a team this season was because the kids wanted to finish what they started at Trinity Catholic. They represented the spirit of the school better than any team I could imagine.”
It was widely felt that not only would Trinity potentially go winless, but it may not be able to finish the season without forfeiting games due to the size of the roster and inevitability of injuries and sickness.
Because of the small roster and lack of experience, some players were asked to stay on the ice for entire periods, never coming off for line changes.
“We had six kids who played 95% of the minutes,” Pinto said. “The seniors took on a ton of responsibility and we had great team chemistry right away. This team was so much more than a hockey team. They really were more like a family.”
The team not only finished the season, but won five games, qualifying for the CIAC Division III state tournament.
Injuries and illnesses did come into play at times, as Trinity had as few as six skaters and a goalie dressed for games. For their outstanding efforts, Trinity was named the 2019-20 CHSCA Team of the Year.
Trinity was 4-3 to start the season, surprising everyone around the state.
The team struggled once it got into the teeth of its FCIAC schedule and needed a win against a Masuk team which had beaten them 5-1 just a few weeks earlier, to qualify for states in the second-to-last game of the regular season.
Making matters worse, the team was dealing with some illnesses.
One of the sick players, junior Emmett Donoghue, made it out of bed just in time for the faceoff. Donoghue scored the game’s only goal as Trinity beat Masuk 1-0, qualifying for the state tournament.
“That is my favorite memory of my time at Trinity,” Pinto said. “We thought we might have to forfeit, but Donoghue made it to the game and scores the only goal of the game. The feeling after that game is hard to explain. I was so proud of the whole team for that effort.”
The team would not have won the game against Masuk, or any other for that matter, had it not been for the outstanding goaltending of junior Jeff Reda.
Reda was named CHSCA Division III All-State and was the reason why Trinity was close in so many games.
In a 4-0 loss to Sheehan, Reda was credited with making 77 saves.
As a former goalie himself, Pinto considered himself and the team lucky to have Reda in net.
This past season, the team represented everything good about sports and Pinto deserves the honor of the Lione Award, if for no other reason than giving his players one last moment in the spotlight.