Kyle Gonzalez was 'big brother' in Hat Tricks title run
Kyle Gonzalez is on a nice roll, both personally and professionally. The Danbury Hat Tricks defenseman is engaged to be married, he and his fiancée Megan Brown are set to tie the knot in 2024. He also just received his MBA in Human Resource Management.
And in the midst of these major life accomplishments, Gonzalez helped the Hat Tricks win their first Commissioner’s Cup championship just about two months ago.
“It was an experience of a lifetime; it meant the world to me” Gonzalez said. “I had my checklist of what I wanted to accomplish in my professional career and winning a championship was right up there. I still get a little emotional thinking about that moment, accomplishing that goal.”
A member of the inaugural Hat Tricks team in 2019, Gonzalez returned to Danbury last October after three seasons mostly playing in the SPHL. Hat Tricks coach and general manager Billy McCreary knew his team would be better on and off the ice with “Gonzo” back in the fold, and immediately an alternate captain’s “A” was sewn on to his No. 7 sweater.
A veteran defensive defenseman, Gonzalez was as advertised, providing a calm, steady influence on the blue line. He also established a career high with 34 points (three goals, 31 assists) in 54 games, including a two-goal game against Motor City on Dec. 9 and a six-game point streak Feb. 24 – March 11.
Equally as important was his leadership.
“Gonzo was a guy I looked up to,” rookie defenseman Brendan Dowler said. “He has all this knowledge and just the way he carries himself, everyone is keyed into what he’s saying in the locker room or on the ice. He was a great role model for me, and I’d imagine for all the boys on the team.”
The 29-year-old joined a leadership group headed by two players he knew from 2019, captain Jonny Ruiz and alternate Gordy Bonnel. Gonzalez played only 10 games for Danbury that first season before he moved up to Roanoke in the SPHL, but Ruiz was thrilled when the defenseman returned to Danbury.
“He brings a sense of calm to everything and he’s so easy to communicate and connect with,” Ruiz said. “He’s definitely the big brother type to the younger players and a guy everyone looks up to.”
Reconnecting with Ruiz, Bonnel and McCreary made winning the championship this season even sweeter for Gonzalez.
“Those three were here from Day 1, through COVID, grinding it out through tough years, to see them get what they deserve and all their hard work coming to fruition, and to see the looks on their faces when we won is something I will never forget,” Gonzalez said.
That he chooses to focus on Ruiz, Bonnel and McCreary at the same moment he achieved a dream of his own speaks to who Gonzalez is and why he’s so respected by teammates and coaches. In fact, there’s a line he said about McCreary that applies to him, as well.
“He has so much respect because it’s never about him.”
And in Gonzalez’s mind, it wasn’t about him when he sustained a freak hand injury in the playoff opener against the Elmira Mammoth. He missed the rest of that series and then the second-round nail-biter against the Binghamton Black Bears.
Though on the sidelines, Gonzalez was a steady, veteran voice for a young Hat Tricks squad. Even when Danbury twice faced elimination against Binghamton in the best-of-3 series after losing the opener, Gonzalez provided outward calm for his teammates despite the nerves he felt watching them play in the do-or-die games without him.
“Sure, negative thoughts crept into my mind, but that’s not what I shared with the others,” Gonzalez explained. “I did lose a few years (of my life) worrying, though!”
Healthy and back in the lineup for the best-of-5 Final against the Carolina Thunderbirds, Gonzalez again was a calming influence when Danbury lost the first two games and faced three straight elimination games, including Game 5 that was decided in overtime on Michael Marchesan’s championship-winning goal.
“You could see the dream slipping away, but at the same time we knew our season wasn’t going to end,” Gonzalez shared. “The common theme was to keep it simple. I think the leadership did a good job reinforcing the coach’s message. Really, Billy’s why we got fitted for (championship) rings this summer.”
Gonzalez did his part, too, to ensure a championship parade in Danbury. But it’s not his style to take credit for that.
Instead, he rolls on, earning his MBA, planning for his wedding and prepping for next season.
“I’m just lucky to be surrounded by good people.”
Photos: Chris Rutsch