NEW CANAAN, Conn. – Kelsey Durkin reflected what the New Canaan High School girls hockey team is all about. That’s what made it so hard for longtime coach Rich Bulan and players past and present when they learned the former player had died in a car accident Dec. 3.
“She was a great hockey player,’’ Bulan said of Durkin, who played defense for a team that won three state championships before she graduated in 2010. “But she was a great role model. She wasn’t a captain, but she behaved like a captain. She brought young players into the fold. She would give other players rides. She had the sleepovers. She really touched everybody. One of the biggest mistakes I made was not making her captain.”
Durkin, 21, died in a car accident in Virginia. She was a senior at Washington and Lee University in Lexington. The driver of the 2006 Chevy Tahoe involved in the accident has been charged with driving under the influence.
Part of the success of the New Canaan girls hockey program is its team unity. The team has a unique bond, and Durkin’s death struck a chord with everyone associated with the team.
“We’re on the ice from November to March,’’ Bulan said. “We’re together longer than just about any sport besides football. We go on the longest bus rides. The players do a ton of stuff off the ice. That adds to the chemistry, and that has helped us through a lot of times. Kelsey was a big part of that chemistry.”
Since the accident, he has tried to comfort his players, past and present. “Watching how it hit them, it’s hard,” said Bulan, who experienced a similar crisis in 1998 when a former Westhill High School player died in a car accident. “You can feel their pain, and I wish I could take that away. I feel so bad for the kids. How do I help? What can I say? What can I do? For better or worse, you have to be there for the kids.”
New Canaan will raise a banner with Durkin’s number at Saturday’s game against Guilford at Darien Ice Rink. Many of Durkin’s former teammates will be in the region this weekend, having returned home for their winter breaks from college. A memorial service will be held Friday, Dec. 20, at 11 a.m. at St. Mark’s Church.
Bulan, whose children are similar in age to Durkin, knows the anxiety parents of young drivers feel on a daily basis.
“I always laughed at my parents, but now I’ve become them,’’ he said. “We might go to bed when the kids go out, but trust me, nobody’s eyes close until that garage door closes. I tell my kids that I trust you, but sometimes it’s somebody else. When I learned what happened to Kelsey, I was just numb. It still doesn’t seem like it can be real.”