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Spotlighting match-up nightmare Hugh Curran

Pictured on the ice this past winter, senior Hugh Curran (6) has served as a defensive mainstay for Needham High boys lacrosse and hockey each of the last four years. Photo by Mike Flanagan.

By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor

An athlete who has perhaps flown a little bit under the radar the last four years for Needham High School is senior Hugh Curran. 

A multi-sport captain in hockey and lacrosse and four-year varsity player for each team, Curran has been a defensive mainstay in both sports for the better part of his varsity tenure. On the lacrosse field, Curran served as Needham’s top close defenseman in 2019, earning himself Bay State Conference All-Star honors after helping Needham to a 14-4 record, as well as the Bay State Herget Division title. Curran has also played wing on face-offs as an LSM and has taken his fair share of face-offs throughout his lacrosse career.

The goal for Hugh Curran has always been simple: get better every day. It may sound cliche, but practicing against premiere attack-men such as Jason Child (Boston University) and Brendan Walsh (Trinity) every day for three years certainly forces a long-pole defenseman to improve their game and technique. Curran says that along with playing against guys like Child and Walsh, having supportive senior captains such as Sam Eisenstadt (UMass) and Joe Bruno during his freshman year really helped him develop as a player and as a leader. 

“Since I was the only freshman on the varsity lacrosse team, I didn’t have the greatest confidence in my abilities or in my voice,” said Curran about his mindset heading into the spring of 2017. “At first, I felt very hesitant to make certain plays and voice my opinion, being the youngest kid on the team, but with the support I had from the upperclassman, especially captains Sam Eisenstadt and Joey Bruno, I was able to open up and really develop into the player I came to be. I learned a lot that year, and I believe that without those guys I may not have had the success I did in years to come. Besides the support from my teammates, the in-house competition we had every day in practice probably helped improve my defensive skills the most. Sometimes it felt like practices were more of a challenge than games. I was fortunate enough to be able to play with and against Jason Child and Brendan Walsh for three years. Defending two of the best offensive players in the state, you can’t fall asleep for a split second or you’re toast. They made me have to play smarter and pushed me to become faster and stronger. I always knew their passion for the game, and that they’d come back hungrier each year. I didn’t want to let them down and knew I needed to do the same. Knowing that you have teammates buying into the season makes you want to work harder and provides you the opportunity to do so and I think that’s why I finally received recognition as a Bay State All-Star in 2019.”

As a sophomore in 2018, Needham entered the year without a single senior on its defensive unit, meaning younger guys such as Curran were going to have to step up, big time. Despite the lack of senior leadership on the defensive front, the Rockets held opponents to an average of just seven goals a game, earning themselves the No. 10 seed and making a run to the quarterfinal round of the Division I South playoffs (fell 18-5 to eventual state champ BC High). Curran says that season really helped spark his motivation to be a leader for Needham High lacrosse. 

“My sophomore year we had no senior defensemen on our team, which posed a huge challenge for me to become a top defensive player and leader alongside Max Sylvia,” said Curran. “There were definitely times where our coaches and offensive players lit into us a bit because we were failing to do our job. Those experiences are the ones that hit you the hardest. I have always hated letting my teammates down, so when you’re being held accountable for not doing your job, it doesn’t leave your mind. I think that has always been my biggest motivator.”

On the ice, Curran has been a prototypical and physical stay-at-home defensemen for the Rockets, serving as one of Needham’s top penalty-killers throughout his four years on varsity. Asked about the similarities the two sports share, Curran says that playing defense in both hockey and lacrosse forces an athlete to utilize many of the same mentalities and muscle memories. Curran also says that playing both sports has mutually benefitted his abilities to improve in both due to constantly staying in an aggressive defensive mindset throughout the entire year.

“In hockey, I see myself as an aggressor and positional player who doesn’t take too many risks unless it’s a big hit,” said Curran. "I’ve always found a spot on the penalty kill, battling in the corners or finishing off a scrap in front of the net. I believe my hockey mindset and abilities transfer very similarly to the lacrosse field. As a defenseman in hockey, you’re almost always the first one back to retrieve the puck and you don’t always have a ton of time to slow down and think. The muscle memory of looking over your shoulder going into a corner and keeping your head up to make a decision by ‘reading the play’ translates the exact same way to lacrosse, especially when moving the ball off the ground. This skill helps to read where your teammates or opponent will be and calculate your options under pressure with only a split-second glance at the space around you. Whether your option is an open teammate, open space for yourself, or to dump the ball/puck to a certain area, in a game played at such a high speed, it’s a skill that you need to have.”

Hockey and lacrosse may hold similarities when it comes to defensive mindsets and making split-second decisions, but puck/ball control and stick-handling/cradling are extremely different. Nevertheless, Curran says that playing physically in both sports - just to scoop up a ground-ball in lacrosse or win a battle for a loose puck in hockey - are extremely similar. Doing both has helped him develop the hard-nosed physical sense for which he has become known. 

“Another similarity I find in hockey and lacrosse is ground-balls and battles for the puck,” said Curran. “They are both 50/50 situations in which you must have strength and balance in your legs as well as solid body positioning. In hockey, you don’t have the same control of the puck as you do in lacrosse, so being able to box out your opponent and protect the puck is an essential skill for 50/50 battles. I think the coordination and creativity you adapt from hockey is also a major plus when on the lacrosse field. Sometimes you need to ‘stick-handle’ the ball before picking it up by making a move through or around your opponent, and sometimes even putting it through your own legs to open space. Lastly, I believe that shadowing your opponent and watching their chest, rather than what they are doing with their stick, translates very well from hockey to lacrosse. When meeting a forward at the blue line or an attack-man at X, it's easy to get caught up in the fancy movement of their stick or feet. I’ve always been taught to take the body and positioning first and stick second, which I think has helped me immensely throughout the years. With a long-pole in your hand you can sometimes get carried away with stick checks, and that's when you lose your positioning and get beat. Some of these muscle memories and techniques seem so simple, but they have all been some of my key tools on the field and in the rink.”

After playing an entire hockey season, Curran looked to help Needham lacrosse repeat as Herget Division champs this spring. Committed to PG at Brewster Academy, Curran was poised to lead Needham’s defensive unit once again in 2020 as a senior captain, but unfortunately never got the chance due to the COVID-19 outbreak. When asked about not being able to play lacrosse in 2020, Curran held nothing back and voiced the opinion that every spring high school athlete has about the situation. 

“The loss of the 2020 season killed me, and I know it has been the same for the rest of the team and all other spring athletes - no matter what level or age,” said Curran. “From the very start of the delays and cancellations, I always waited for a final answer from the MIAA or the coaching staff before letting the team know. There was always hope these rumors weren’t true and that we’d still have some variation of a season. I tried my best to stay positive and continue to act like we’d have a season, even if there were any doubts. I wanted our team to be prepared. We had a text string with the team that fellow captain Andrew Fitzgerald and I used to keep everyone updated and remind each other to continue to tune up our sticks, stay fit, and do our best to be game ready for when the time comes. When the news came out that there would be no spring sports, I wasn’t surprised, but I was at a loss of words about how this was the way my final season would end. I took some time to reflect on my career with Needham lacrosse and think about everyone that had been an inspiration and motivator to me along the way. I decided to send a personalized message to the team, mostly thanking all my teammates for all their hard work and support throughout the years. I also made sure to let the underclassmen know what losing our last season felt like, and to make sure that they took that feeling into next season, not only for themselves, but to represent the seniors that never got their chance. Everyone knew about the cancellation at this point, but sending that last text to the team hurt the most. We had a handful of players who hadn’t got the chance to play a full season that had been waiting to be healthy again, as well as working nonstop to finally break through and start their first game. It was definitely emotional for all of us, especially seniors like myself that won’t have the opportunity to suit up in Needham’s blue and gold again. However, the emotion from losing this season was completely different. It usually ends in a playoff loss surrounded by all your teammates and coaches after giving it everything you've got, but this year felt like we never got the chance to give anything - it's like we were just stripped of the excitement and memories that come with any other season.”

Even with the lost lacrosse season, Curran says he’s thankful for every moment he’s had as a Needham High athlete. Curran cherishes the fact that he was able to play alongside some of his best childhood friends throughout his entire high school athletic tenure. 

“The memories from participating in Needham High athletics have been special,” said Curran. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have experienced four years and eight sports seasons at Needham High. Each and every season has created different experiences and memories that I will greatly miss next year at Brewster. Whether they’re from team dinners, carpools, bus rides, practices, games or banquets, those memories are why I chose to continue to attend Needham High for all four years. I think it’s special to be able to play with people that you grew up around as far back as when you were a toddler or just met in middle school. The thing is, you don’t always realize how important that is to you until it's over. I’m very thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to play with and serve as a captain alongside two of my best friends. Kurt Brinkhaus and I were co-captains of the hockey team this past year and have been very close, way back to when we used to be a ruthless defensive pairing in youth soccer. Also, this spring, Andrew Fitzgerald and I, who’s also one of my close buddies, would have finally had the chance to lead the lacrosse team after being our grade’s class officers since Friday night lights in eighth grade. All my past teammates and I have been through everything together, and that’s what has made my time with Needham athletics so memorable.” 

Asked to pick a favorite memory from each sport, Curran says helping lead Needham back to the playoffs in hockey his sophomore year and ending the losing streak against Wellesley as a junior really stick out. On the lacrosse field, Curran’s favorite memories are what he calls ‘making new acquaintances.’

“Favorite hockey memories have got to be sophomore year, getting Needham hockey back into the playoffs and playing a major role in all the energy and excitement from the seniors, coaches, and fans around town,” added Curran. “Junior year, it was beating longtime rival Wellesley after a seven-year losing streak versus them, and celebrating with the team afterward.” 

“Some of my favorite lacrosse memories have to be the matchup enemies I made,” said Curran. “I know that I’m doing my job when the attack-man I’m guarding gets angry, and it makes the game a lot more fun than when they just shy away and get scared. Junior year, beating Bishop Guertin on their home turf after losing a tight game to them in 2017 and getting beaten up in 2018 - I always want to play the best competition possible, and being able to beat a team like that just feels that much better. Another big one would be back to my freshman year versus Wellesley. Running down the outside alley, I threw a big wrap check and snapped a kid's stick in half, right in front of our bench, and we immediately went down and scored. I just remember how amped up our whole team was and that momentum took us on a four-unanswered scoring streak.”

With no lacrosse senior night on tap, players like Hugh Curran will not be honored in the manner they deserve to be. The ultimate match-up nightmare, very few athletes will be more dedicated to their crafts and bring the type of leadership to Needham High athletics than Hugh Curran did these last four years. Salute to you, Hugh. 

For funny and incisive sports analysis as well as game highlights, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter and Instagram @flano0.

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