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Playing and coaching, Notre Dame captain Caden Hickey continually motivates others

By Ross Forman, 06/19/24, 9:45PM CDT


Senior forward also is a student-coach for the Chicago Hornets sled hockey organization

Caden Hickey, a senior this upcoming season for Notre Dame College Prep, is a forward who has twice won the school’s prestigious JV Don of the Year award (as a freshman and junior). He skates with a defense-focused approach, playing conservatively and focused on strong position play in the defensive zone.

He was the Dons’ JV captain last season and “amongst the best captains I’ve ever had in 37 years,” said Notre Dame JV head coach Mike Silenzi, who added that Hickey’s leadership, maturity, accountability and attitude are all top-notch.

“He took on every task I asked him to do, and went above and beyond, He’s the definition of a team-player and truly a quality individual.”

Hickey, 17, who lives in Evanston and formerly skated for the Skokie Flyers, said leading the Dons JV Team last season was “an incredibly rewarding experience.”

“The transition into high school hockey can be difficult for many and some can take a few months to truly adjust to the more competitive and physical play,” Hickey said. “Part of my role as a leader was to continue to remind our players, especially our freshmen, to be confident in themselves and their abilities. Thus, the level of growth and development in each player became apparent by the end of the season and serves as a reminder of the hours of sweat and effort that went into each practice, game and workout.

“A strong team leader promotes a sense of respect and camaraderie so that each team member strives to work not for himself but instead for the betterment of the team. A captain’s display of character — the courage, commitment and humility to which he holds himself — should manifest within the team itself and serve to inspire each member of the team to do the same. Personally, the most efficient way to do this is to lead by example and to make the right decisions, which the rest of the team will follow.”

For instance, before every game, Hickey and co-captain Patrick Lemke would introduce themselves to the officials and the opposing coaches. Their teammates followed suit.

“We were able to foster such strong character that continued to grow among the team throughout the season,” Hickey said. “I am a firm believer that most success stems from the mind and having a positive mindset that seeks growth and development. To maintain an unwavering determination to win, I was very vocal on the bench during the season, no matter the score. Remembering from my earlier years the confidence that comes from hearing someone congratulate me on a great play or reassure me of my abilities after a bad shift, I strived to do the same for our team this (past season).

“When a player was beating himself up on the bench after a bad shift, my goal was to build his confidence back up so that he would be mentally ready to compete at his highest level (on) the next shift. The same applied after we got scored upon, as I often yelled something like ‘We’re good’ or ‘Get it back next shift.’

“There is no time to sulk or to be disappointed about a play in a hockey game; thus, I maintained a positivity on the bench that allowed the team to remain resilient and to compete through adversity.”

Hickey credits his dad and his coaches for his hockey mindset, especially since the elder Hickey built an ice rink in their backyard so Caden could further his skating, his skills “and truly fostered a love for the game.”

“My high school coaches all push me to become the best player I can be,” Hickey said. “Whether it be through hard work in practice or leadership on the ice, they all motivate me to continue to develop my game and improve my abilities.”

Hickey brings that to the bench himself, as a coach for the Chicago Hornets, a sled hockey organization consisting of players aged 5 and older who have physical disabilities yet are determined to play ice hockey.

“I was hooked on coaching with the Hornets when I saw the development and growth of our players in just the first few weeks of the season,” Hickey said. “We had several players who started playing the game for the very first-time last season, and to see the incredible progress that they made as hockey players was incredibly motivating and inspiring both for me and for the other players on the team. I also was hooked by the sense of camaraderie present in the program, as every player and coach are so supportive of one another and truly works for the betterment of the team and the program. I wanted to be able to contribute in the very same way and help the Hornets further in whatever way possible.

“Coaching with the Hornets … I help the players (however) possible. To get the players onto the ice in their sleds, many of them need to have wheels placed on the back of their sleds so that they can be rolled to the door and onto the ice. Our coaching staff, especially the student coaches, ensure that each player is comfortable in their sled as we help them get onto the ice. Some players also need additional help propelling themselves forward on the ice, so their sleds have handles on the back so that I or another coach can help push them. If I am not pushing a player during practice, I will often work with one of our younger players, guiding them through the drills, encouraging them to work hard and helping them to develop their skills on the ice. When the team has games, I assist getting players on the ice as well as pushing those who need to be pushed during the game.”

Hickey joined the Hornets this past season at the National Sled Hockey Championships, held near Philadelphia, which he said was “a great opportunity to grow closer to the team and (was) the culmination of all the hard work that our players put (in) throughout the season.

“To work with the Hornets is an incredibly rewarding experience that continues to remind me of the importance of resilience and the value of hard work. Each week I continue to see the improvement in every player, and the dedication that they put in continues to inspire me in my own life and my own endeavors. They all have a passion for the game, and to be able to help foster that passion motivates me even more.”

The Hornets played a benefit game this past April at Allstate Arena in Rosemont against … Hickey’s Notre Dame College Prep, who all suited up and played sled hockey for the very first time. “This was the first time I had ever been in a sled, and I struggled even just with skating,” Hickey said. “After coaching for about six months, the experience reaffirmed how hard our players work and the incredible talent and skill that they must develop to play sled hockey. The experience also exposed the rest of my Notre Dame team to sled hockey and the dedication that our Hornets players put in every day.”

Hickey added, “Throughout the season, my teammates at Notre Dame would see me and Finn Murnane, another Notre Dame player who works with the Hornets, in our Hornets gear. They always saw the program as an incredible way to work with others and to foster a love for the game, but when they played in the benefit game, their perspective changed even further. They were impressed with the development of our Hornets team and the skill of our players, and a few were even moved to ask about potential coaching opportunities for the (upcoming) season.”

Hickey said one of his fondest Hornets’ memories was the friendship he developed with Jaxon, who Hickey often pushed at practice. “He has a great enthusiasm for playing and always works hard at practice,” Hickey said. “I got to know him even better during the tournament in Philadelphia; I watched most of the (Hornets’) Advanced Team’s games with him, which was a lot of fun.”

Hickey, who sports jersey No. 12 for the Dons, added: “The biggest appeal in coaching the Hornets is to foster a love for the game of hockey, regardless of physical ability. My life has been impacted by the game, and I have developed incredible life-long relationships, as well as a strong work ethic and mental strength. I want everyone to have this same experience, and by coaching the Hornets, I can help our players develop those very same friendships and characteristics that I value so much.

“Hockey is an incredible sport, and I want all to be able to enjoy it to the fullest.”

Off the ice, Hickey is a regular in the gym and is an avid piano and guitar player. Hickey is the president of the school’s National Honor Society, vice president in Burke Buddy Club, treasurer of student council and a member of Grill Club and Hellenic Club.

He is also a caddy at Evanston Golf Club.

“Working with the Hornets serves as a constant reminder of the value of determination and perseverance in accomplishing a task,” Hickey said. “I try to take the enthusiasm that I see in our Hornets players and carry it into my own play with Notre Dame. The experience has truly inspired me to continue to work through adversity and to develop myself and my abilities in the face of difficult challenges. A major part of hockey is to overcome such challenges with hard work and the support of others, and working with the Hornets continues to help me play with those ideas in mind.”

Slapshots With … Notre Dame College Prep forward Caden Hickey

Favorite NHL Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Favorite NHL Player: Connor Bedard
Favorite Sports-themed Movie: Rudy
Favorite TV Show: Designated Survivor
Favorite Pre-game Meal: Chicken and pasta
Favorite app: Spotify
Celebrity You’d Like To Meet: Dave Grohl
Long-term Goal Career-wise: “To serve in the United States Navy as an officer after college.”
Best Hockey Tip: “Coach Christian Catalano, who has coached me the past three seasons, always reminds us that ‘hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.’ Some teams might have more talent than others, but with grit, mental fortitude and a willingness to leave it all on the ice, a team can win. This applies not only to hockey, but life in general, and will remain an important reminder for both those with talent to remain humble, and for those who lack talent to strive to become better.”
Best High School Uniform (other than Notre Dame): PREP