Billy McCreary: New Year's Q&A

by Jim Cerny, Hat Tricks Insider

The calendar has flipped to 2023 and the Danbury Hat Tricks hope to carry over their success from the previous year into the new one.

The Hat Tricks are 20-1-2 so far this season, winning each of their 11 home games, ahead of a weekend set at Danbury Arena against the Carolina Thunderbirds.

Hat Tricks general manager and coach Billy McCreary sat down with the Hat Tricks Insider to discuss the challenges ahead, a new addition to the lineup and the passing of Melanie Frenkel in this new year’s Q&A.

The new year started with sad news when we learned that Melanie Frenkel had lost her battle with ALS. What were your feelings when hearing this news?

“Melanie was such a wonderful person and such a passionate fan. It’s tough to know she won’t be in the Danbury Ice Arena anymore, cheering us on, giving us the support she always loved to give. It’s sad to see how the disease she had took away her strength. For us as a team, we want to make sure we dedicate this season to Melanie … take a little extra inspiration from Melanie and her family.”

You mention family. Melanie and her family have been such a big part of the bigger Hat Tricks family, haven’t they?

“100 percent. Melanie’s daughter Rachel is at all of our games and she’s the first one to greet us and give us a fist bump and your heart just breaks for her. It is a family here, to your point, so to have all of our players supporting her and help bring her family through these tough times, she’s gained 30 brothers. As hard as this is, it’s when family really comes together.”

As for hockey, if I told you before the season that the Hat Tricks would have one regulation loss heading into 2023, you would have said what?

“I think maybe I’d say you were writing for the Boston Bruins not the Danbury Hat Tricks! No, I don’t think I would have believed you. It’s remarkable to see what these guys are doing. I’ve been a part of the game for a long time at many levels, you very rarely see a record of this kind going into the new year. It’s certainly going to be a challenge to continue that mentality, not let our expectations drop, make sure we get one percent better every day. If we continue to improve after each performance, we’re going to put ourselves in a good spot at the end of the year. We are our biggest challenge and we have to stay the course.”

It probably helps keep your focus knowing the Binghamton Black Bears are breathing down your necks in the Empire Division, despite your great start, right?

“Every weekend you think you’re going to  look at the standings page and see a little bit of separation there but Binghamton has been doing a fantastic job and they’re not giving us any breathing room. I think it really has helped us stay focused and understand that we can’t take any days off because if we do someone is waiting there ready to take our spot. We have to earn it every day and it starts in practice, continues through our game play.”

How have the Hat Tricks been able to maintain such a pace when you’ve lost so many important players on loan to the SPHL already this season?

“Our scouting team has been great. Everyone understands who and what we’re looking for, the type of people that we want in our organization. They do an excellent job of finding the people we need to bring in here. Once you get the right people in here, the culture, the locker room, the leadership really takes over from there. I don’t know if it’s the hockey Gods or what, but it keeps working for us.”

Speaking of new additions, the Hat Tricks acquired forward Daniel McKitrick from Mississippi on Friday. How do you see him fitting in here in Danbury?

“He really fits our mold. He’s got a lot of energy, is an excellent skater, high compete level, high skill. He should be a guy that comes in and can break our top six and should be a power-play type player. We’re going to need that depth down the stretch here. Really excited to see what he can do here.”

Your captain, Jonny Ruiz, just scored his 100th career goal in the FPHL. How special a moment was that milestone?

“For sure, it’s incredible. We take a lot of pride with the type of people we bring into our organization. We really try to identify good people, good honest hockey players and when Jonny came to us a few weeks into our first season (2019-20) he fit right in. Obviously, he has a knack for the net, plays with a ton of offensive skill but he’s always been committed to rounding out his game. To his credit, he’s gone from a young rookie in the league to a captain. And for him to reach that 100-goal plateau is a testament to everything that he is on and off the ice. He’s a tremendous teammate, tremendous leader and it was great for him to get that done last weekend.”