MONROE, CT — Terrance “Terry” Stroz was among the coaches basking in the moment when the Masuk High School hockey team won the Division III State Tournament at Quinnipiac University’s M&T Bank Arena in Hamden last March. Players skated onto the ice to join their teammates, arms raised in celebration of a 6-3 win over Newington co-op.
Panthers Head Coach Andy Townsend will not return for the 2023-24 season, and Stroz, the man who coached by his side for nine years, became the logical choice to succeed him.
“He has an excellent ability to connect with our student athletes and he happens to be a teacher in the building,” Masuk Athletic Director Craig Semple said when announcing the hiring of Stroz. “He is organized and enthusiastic to lead our program.”
“I’m looking forward as athletic director to working with Terry and he also has an outstanding mentor in Coach Townsend to lean on,” Semple said. “The program is in great hands and we look forward to continued success under the leadership of Coach Stroz.”
Prior to choosing Stroz, Semple had done his due diligence, setting up a search committee and conducting a thorough process to find the best candidate for the job.
“We had six candidates,” he said. “We interviewed three and we felt like Terry was the best match for our program, our kids and the community.”
Semple said it came down to Stroz and another finalist, who was a strong candidate in his own right.
The athletic director shared the qualities Masuk looks for in its head coaches.
“We’re looking for someone who understands education based athletics, who will be a role model for our student athletes, create a competitive environment and push our kids to the best of their abilities,” Semple said.
“And I want our kids to have fun,” he added. “It’s sports. There’s enough stress in the world right now. I want something that years later they cherish for the rest of their lives. A state championship is icing on the cake, but if you follow that formula, success is a byproduct of that culture. Create that culture and you’ll have that success.”
Semple also expressed his gratitude to Townsend for his contributions in growing the hockey program, while coaching in Monroe for nearly two decades.
“He’s been amazing,” Semple said. “Coach Townsend, we knew he planned on moving on after this season, but he’s left the program in great hands and on to the next chapter.”
Stroz said Townsend, who lives in Orange, planned to stop coaching, before accepting the top job at Amity High School, where he will have the opportunity to coach his son. During the day he will still work as a social studies teacher at Masuk.
A passion for sports
Stroz, 36, has been a special education teacher at Masuk for seven years. He grew up in Monroe and is a member of Masuk’s Class of 2005. He currently lives in Shelton with his wife Stephanie, who he married last September.
“I actually played for Masuk hockey, so it’s still nice to be part of the program,” Stroz said.
After graduating from Masuk, Stroz enrolled at Western Connecticut State University, where he played lacrosse for four years and earned his communications degree.
“When I graduated from college I didn’t want to give up on sports,” he said. “There was never an option for professional sports, so I got into coaching.”
“You learn the life lessons, meet a lot of people and make good connections you’ll have for the rest of your life,” Stroz said of youth sports. “The whole team camaraderie … coaches taught lessons beyond sports. I wanted to do that for other kids.”
He went on to become Masuk’s head boys lacrosse coach for 10 years and has been assistant men’s lacrosse coach at WestConn since 2021. Stroz was also head coach of boys cross country at Masuk for four years and is currently head coach of the sport for men and women at WestConn.
Stroz said he had also helped Townsend when they coached a girls hockey program.
He said he gravitated to hockey, because the team camaraderie is a little different than other sports. Games and practices are off campus, so more time is spent together during bus rides to ice rinks and in locker rooms.
“I just love the team concept,” Stroz said. “I have had great sports experiences at Masuk. I just want to keep that going like Andy did for the last 16 years.”
As a coach, Stroz said his primary goal is for his players to be “good leaders, respectful kids who are ready to go out into the world and be successful.”
“Academics are important,” he said. “You want them to be well rounded. There are other things more important than hockey.”
Some players return, others step up
In the state championship game last winter, Drew Scalia broke a 2-2 tie in the second period with his second of three goals, as the Panthers wrapped up a 23-1-2 campaign and the program’s first state championship.
Stroz takes the helm of a team that’s losing six seniors, including Scalia.
“We’ll be competitive,” Semple said. “We graduated Drew Scalia. He’s a once in a lifetime player to have come through your program. He’s a terrific player, person and individual.”
While some familiar faces are gone, Stroz said five good players who “contributed in a big way” are coming back, including goalie Maddex LaFountain, who had 24 saves in the championship game.
In all, Stroz said around 16 kids are coming back with an eagerness to step up and earn more playing time on the ice.
“We should be in good shape,” he said. “Everybody grows a little bit and the freshmen become sophomores. It’s a nice thing to see every year.”
Stroz said Masuk has two big classes coming in over the next two years, making it an exciting time to coach.
Stroz said the Panthers will benefit from the return of Sean Shevlin, who was an assistant coach on last season’s championship team.
“I have a great assistant coach in Sean Shevlin,” Stroz said. “He coached with Andy and I the last four years. He was on one of the first teams I coached and his older brother, Mark, is like my best friend. We played together in high school.”
A friendly rivalry
Prior to being hired as Masuk’s new head hockey coach this summer, Stroz said the position was on his mind for months.
“Andy told me in January he was stepping down no matter what happened this season,” Stroz recalled. “For a couple months, I thought about it and talked to my wife. I want to keep it going,” he added of the program. “He was passionate, dedicated and taught me a lot. I want to keep it as a family.”
Stroz said he wanted to be there for his players too. “I want them to come back and feel as if it’s a family,” he said. “They’re part of the program.”
Some families have already reached out to congratulate Stroz and share their excitement over the upcoming season, he said, while also expressing his appreciation for the support of Semple and Masuk Principal Steve Swensen during the Panthers’ big transition.
Semple said the Panthers are still in Division 3, but will be playing a lot of Division 2 opponents next season.
“It’s probably an equal or a better schedule this year, so we’ll be battle tested for the playoffs this season,” he said. “Our goal is to play the best competition.”
The schedule includes a game against Townsend’s hockey team from Amity.
“It will be a great rivalry,” Stroz said. “I’m just excited for the opportunity. When you have a season like we did, everyone’s very excited to come back and get the next season rolling, so it will be nice.”
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