Coach of the year: Hall-Southington ice hockey coach is an inspiration to players, fans

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It’s no surprise to Hall-Southington fans, but Brian Cannon was named as the Division III coach of the year by the CIAC. Cannon, above center, coaches the Warrior-Knights during the 2017 championship game. (Photo by John Goralski)

Since last summer, it has been a hard-fought journey for Brian Cannon.  After being diagnosed with cancer last summer and losing a leg in the process, most would have not even considered returning to coaching hockey.  But there Cannon was, fully healthy, on the bench with Hall-Southington on Dec. 16 as they opened their season.

Despite a 3-2 overtime loss in the season opener, Cannon was visibly happy to be back out on the ice, and the Warrior Knights’ season only took off from there.  After their first loss, they went 10-2 in their next 12 games.

Hall-Southington finished 13-7 on the season, a complete turnaround from a season ago when the team went 5-13-2.  That record was good enough for the No. 3 seed in the Division III state tournament.  The Warrior Knights also finished runner-up in the Central Connecticut Conference south division tournament.

Shortly before the regular season ended, Cannon was announced as the Division III Coach of the Year by Connecticut High School Hockey.

Brian Cannon

“It was a very nice acknowledgement,” Cannon said.  “That award is for my other coaches, Colin and Mike, as much as it is for me.  A lot of credit goes to them for what they do.  We were a very good team this year and I think this award shows we were recognized for that.”

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Cannon has coach Hall-Southington for 10 seasons, where he has compiled a 100-97-12 record in the regular season, including just four seasons with a record under a .500 winning percentage. He led the Warrior Knights to the Division III state finals in 2017, when they were taken down by Woodstock Academy.

West Hartford public schools’ athletic director, Jason Siegal, said that Cannon brought his high energy and optimism from his time battling cancer to the Warrior Knights this season, which was a reason for their success.

“I thankfully inherited Brian when I came into this position and ever since I have been here, he has been a staple of positivity and perseverance,” Siegal said.  “The way he approached his diagnosis, his attitude the whole time was fantastic.  The kids embraced that positivity which led to their success on the ice this year.  I don’t know if many people would have come back to coaching from what he experienced, but hockey people are tough individuals, so I am not totally surprised.  That has earned the respect of the hockey community.  This was a well-deserved award.”

“Coach Cannon richly deserves this Division III coach of the year recognition presented to him by his coaching colleagues,” added Southington athletic director, Steve Risser.  “The example he set for his Warrior Knights players in persevering in this most challenging of personal circumstances this season is beyond extraordinary.  Both Hall and Southington High School are indebted to Brian for the courage he displayed and the commitment he provided to our student athletes.”

Cannon and Hall-Southington won their first round matchup over Staples in the first round of the Division III tournament.  However, they found out 12 hours later that the CIAC had cancelled all remaining winter events.  Several Warrior Knights were initially upset, and some even voiced their opinions during the student-organized protest at CIAC headquarters the day after the announcement to cancel winter sports.

Siegal said that Brian’s story was not only an inspiration during the season, but a story for emotional times like his players possibly playing in their final game.

“Brian is a prime example of when life throws you a curveball, you got to keep moving forward,” Siegal said.  “I have no doubt that message was relayed to the kids.”

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Spencer Dreher, email him at Sports@SouthingtonObserver.com.