Hat Tricks Set to ‘Burn the Ships’ in Championship Defense
When it comes to finding ways to inspire the Danbury Hat Tricks, Billy McCreary leaves no stone unturned. That was certainly evident this summer when Danbury’s coach and general manager searched high and low to find new motivation after the Hat Tricks won the Commissioner’s Cup last season.
His research led him to a story called “Burn the Ships.” In 1519, Hernan Cortes ordered his entire fleet of ships be burned after he and his warriors landed in what is now Mexico before battling the Aztecs.
“Cortez took 11 ships over there and when they arrived, he said the first order of business was to tell the crew to burn all 11 ships,” McCreary explained. “His theory was if there are no ships then there’s no way to retreat, no way to go back home. There’s only one direction to go and that’s forward.”
McCreary believes that 700 years later it’s an important message for the Hat Tricks, following their first championship last spring.
“For us, we have to turn the page on last year. We obviously enjoy it and remember it, but we have to move on,” McCreary said. “Our goal is to hang another banner in the rafters and that’s not going to happen by looking at last year or even trying to replicate last year. It’s a new group, new season and we have to burn the ships and move forward accordingly.”
The 2022-23 season was special in so many ways for the Hat Tricks. They blitzed through the regular season, finishing first overall with a 44-7-5 record. Playing at the electric Danbury Arena, the Hat Tricks were at their best, posting a dominating 24-2-2 home record.
Then in the postseason, the Hat Tricks won four elimination games on home ice in the second and third rounds. They rallied past the Carolina Thunderbirds in the Commissioner’s Cup Final after falling behind 2-0 in the best-of-5 series, winning the championship on Michael Marchesan’s overtime goal in a thrilling Game 5.
It’s not easy to leave those memories in the past. But this is a new season with new challenges.
“Burning the ships, it’s a new adventure for this team, a new stage, ready to climb that next mountaintop,” captain Jonny Ruiz said. “Now there’s a higher peak we’re looking towards.”
That higher peak would be winning a second straight championship. No team has gone back to back in FPHL/FHL history.
“You don’t want to be complacent, thinking it’s going to be easy because we just went through hell to get that glory and now it’s ours,” Ruiz explained. “No, it’s like turning the page in a book and looking forward to the next chapter. You always will have those memories of winning, but it’s just a reminder of what you had to go through.”
The first two weeks of the season have shown already it won’t be easy to repeat as champions. The Hat Tricks (2-2-0) split a season-opening home-and-home series against the Watertown Wolves and then split with the Binghamton Black Bears last weekend.
The Hat Tricks are aware that they are the hunted this season.
“Danbury, whether we’re a championship team or not, it always has a target on its back,” McCreary said. “We’ve had to navigate that the past three seasons. Now that we’re defending champs, there’s certainly a bigger target on our back. We have to understand that, adjust to that.”
Ruiz believes the best thing to do is to embrace the situation.
“We earned that right to have every team paint that bullseye a little bit bigger on us,” Ruiz said. “I’m pretty sure every time they see Danbury on the schedule, that day is circled.
“Good. I want it to be that way.”
The next major challenge -- and reminder of past glory -- arrives this weekend. The Thunderbirds visit Danbury Arena, likely extra motivated by a certain level of revenge.
So, as much as the Hat Tricks want to turn the page, or burn the ships, they’ve been constantly reminded of their 2022-23 success.
“It’s tough to turn the page when you have ring night and the banner ceremony and you’ve got Carolina coming in this weekend, but we want to make sure that we don’t have to learn any hard lessons,” McCreary said.
McCreary has won championships as a player, so he knows the push and pull of emotions the returning Hat Tricks have this season. He’s doing his best to make sure they’re focused on the task at hand this season, quick to remind that “complacency is a cancer.”
Ruiz is doing his part as a team leader, as well.
“The way I see it it’s a new chapter and we’re all underdogs now,” Ruiz stated. “It’s time we act like underdogs.”
Photos: Chris Rutsch