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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Hamden Youth Hockey celebrates partnership with NHL-endorsed foundation

Aidan Sheedy
(From left) Hamden Dragons teammates Dashiell Kaye, Jeffery Lightfoot and Nathan Castiline participate in the Shoulder Check movement from the #HT40 Foundation on Saturday, which focuses on encouraging kindness in contact sports.

There’s no more universal symbol of support than a hand on a shoulder. On the afternoon of Dec. 2, over 50 players and coaches from the Hamden Youth Hockey Association gathered at center ice, hands on every shoulder and demonstrated how these seemingly small gestures can have the greatest impact.

The 60-year-old Louis “Lou” Astorino Ice Arena welcomed a “Shoulder Check” showcase for the local hockey league, aiming to educate young athletes on the importance of kindness while competing. HYHA hosted eight games with teams ages 8 to 14, and the message from coaches was clear — make kindness a contact sport.

“Shoulder Check means to me that if your classmate is not feeling their best or had a hard day, you can check in on them, ask them how they feel or if there’s anything you can do to help them,” 10-year- old Marcella Francese said after the on-ice ceremony and discussion.

Francese’s teammate, 8-year-old Jackson Cain, also got the idea.

“You can check in with anyone,” Cain said. “And you can make sure they feel comfortable and happy and you can check in on anyone else, even if they’re not your friend, you can still check in.”

Shoulder Check is an initiative from the #HT40 Foundation in honor of 16-year-old Darien, Connecticut, native Hayden Thorsen, who died by suicide one year ago. Hayden’s father, Rob, launched the foundation in August 2022 and has worked tirelessly to promote the ideals and values his son held as a young hockey player and as a person.

“Each time we do one of these, it’s kind of like a little hand on my shoulder,” Rob Thorsen said. “The idea originally comes from who Hayden was in his life when he was here as a teammate and as a friend. He was the guy who put his hands on our shoulders.”

Though just over one year old, the Shoulder Check movement is gaining momentum from collaborations with NHL stars like New York Rangers sniper Mika Zibanejad and Anaheim Ducks phenom Trevor Zegras, who has deep Connecticut ties, to help embrace the goals that Hayden took with him every day of his life.

“People ask, ‘Who would do what (Hayden) did?’ and the answer is we all can,” Rob said. “We get the chance to come out here and have these kinds of moments and share them with kids and parents and coaches and you can feel the spirit there. It’s just another hand on the shoulder in a different way.”

Between cheering from the stands, chatting outside while waiting for Vittles Food Truck and kids playing mini stick games in the lobby, the Hamden community showed up in a big way for a cause bigger than themselves. But for Rob, The Lou held a different place in his heart.

“We were here last two years ago,” Rob said. “The last time I was in this building, (Hayden) was out on the ice. So for me personally, obviously, it’s a little bittersweet. But then also to see the reception, to see the parents that stuck around, we did the ceremony on the ice. That’s what happens every time we do these moments, it’s like you could see the joy in people’s faces, and the appreciation for the message.”

The event’s coordinator, Mike DeFelice, has only been HYHA’s president since May, but thought this program was exactly what this town needed after attending a Shoulder Check event in Stamford, Connecticut, with his daughter, Piper.

“It was cool today because you could see kids from different perspectives because the (teenagers) are the age group you really want to focus on because that’s when the mental stress usually comes into their lives,” DeFelice said. “It’s really important for the young ones too to start learning about it in a simpler way before they hit that stage.”

The point for DeFelice was having the Hamden community at the core and providing the kids with a nurturing place not just to play hockey and score goals, but to spend time with their friends and foster lifelong connections.

“My personal goal is to bring the program back to what it was when I was a kid,” DeFelice said. “Which was a family-oriented, close-knit group of kids who grew up together from five years old and were friends for the rest of their life.”

In a town overflowing with ice hockey fans — even before Quinnipiac University’s men’s NCAA Championship — HYHA has had several banners to raise too, yet a new movement united Hamden’s hockey community because of a simple shoulder check. It’s all about reaching out, checking in and making contact.

“You’re not alone. And the shoulder check says, I’m right here,” Rob said. “You never know when someone might need a hand, so let’s go out there and put as many hands on shoulders as we can.”

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Aidan Sheedy
Aidan Sheedy, Photography Editor

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