The Wildcats have the village of Ballycroy to thank for some of the team's success over the past half-decade.
The small village of less than a thousand people in County Mayo, Ireland birthed the ancestors of three important members of the Saint Ignatius hockey program. Aidan Conway '21, Aidan Millett '20, and Aedan Conway '19 have played an important role for the Wildcats during the team's recent championship run. Aedan did not know of the relationship to Aidan Conway and Millett until they became teammates in 2017. Aedan graduated in 2019 after a great 3-year career with the Ice Cats. The Ohio Irish American News wrote a great story about them last year.
Meanwhile, Aidan Conway and Aidan Millett have been playing hockey together forever, since they were about 4 years old. They've long been super close.
In the fall of 2016, Millett started at Saint Ignatius High School as a freshman. Conway followed a year later. Both made the Wildcats' hockey squad for the 2017-18 season, donning the blue and gold. Since then, Conway and Millett have won two state titles and were looking for a third this spring.
Something truly special happened along the way – cousins became brothers for life. This is their story.
Conway and Millett first played together when they were about 4 years old. The two played at Serpentini Arena at Winterhurst in Lakewood. From the start, they became good friends.
After the introduction to the game, Conway and Millett became teammates with the Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks. The time together with the Jacks was fun, as both will attest.
The two later wound up on different teams, while attending different schools. Millett started at Our Lady of Angels before heading to Bay Village Middle School, while Conway attended Lakewood Catholic Academy. But an outdoor rink kept them close.
Each winter, Aidan and his dad (Frank) would build an outdoor rink in the yard at the Conway residence in Lakewood. Aidan and Aidan spent countless hours skating on this outdoor paradise. It was on this sheet of ice that their brotherhood truly began.
"I really knew that he would be my brother for life was when we played on different teams, went to different schools, and we still stayed close," Conway said. "My dad and I used to build a rink in our front yard and he would be over almost every day and we would be out there for hours. I credit that rink to our hockey abilities today."
From the outdoor rink, Conway and Millett graduated to the John M. Coyne Recreation Center, where the cousins earned a spot on the varsity squad for the 2017-18 season.
As Conway says, "We picked up like we never dropped off." The Aidan's quickly became inseparable once again, excelling both in the classroom and on the ice. During that first season, Conway played in 27 games, tallying 4 points as a freshman. Millett saw action in 39 of 40 games, quickly becoming one of the team's young scoring studs. Millett tallied 8 goals and 10 assists for a tidy 18 points. The duo helped the Wildcats secure the 2018 State Championship, the third in a row for the Cats.
But even more special than their time on the ice at Nationwide Arena was time spent together in the car driving to school everyday.
"[Millett] lives right down Clifton Road in Lakewood from me so once I started to drive I would pick him for school and drop him off from practice daily," Conway said. "I wouldn’t trade that time in the car for anything."
Conway and Millett continued to work in the offseason and became better and stronger for the 2018-19 season.
The two pushed each other to improve for the Wildcats' historic run at a four-peat, a feat never accomplished by a hockey program in the OHSAA.
"Being able to play with my cousin Aidan Conway has been a surreal thing for me. There’s something different about playing with actual family, it brings you closer together and always makes you work harder to get better," Millett said. "Aidan always brings out the best in me pushing me in practice and in games to play better and work harder so that I can become a better player. I love this about Aidan."
All of the hard work paid off in the end. Millett and Conway again hoisted the golden OHSAA trophy last March, helping the Wildcats make history. As a sophomore, Conway played in 33 of 37 games, showcasing outstanding play at the blue line. The defender notched 4 goals and 6 assists for a clean 10 points on the year. Millett continued to provide great offensive numbers as a skilled forward. The Bay Village native tapped in 15 goals and added 12 assists for 27 points.
The success did not lead to a dropoff in 2019-20 for Millett and Conway.
Instead, the two continued to work extremely hard to become better. Their work did not go unnoticed. Head Coach Pat O'Rourke '90 saw their extra efforts on the ice and in the weight room to improve.
"On the ice, Millett is tenacious, very tough to play against. His skill set is off the charts and he led the team in both scoring and plus-minus this year, so he is an all-around player," said O'Rourke. "Meanwhile, Conway is one of the strongest players on the team and he plays that way. He not only likes to hit, but he can also wear an opponent down just by leaning on him all game long. At defense, he is a rock, someone we can count on to put out there and know the other team won't score on his shift. He can also initiate the offense from our own zone and will do more and more of that next year. He has a nice, accurate shot that has some oomph on it, so he can score from the point, too."
Entering his junior season, Conway earned a captaincy and an "A" on his sweater.
Throughout the season, Conway's leadership was apparent, both vocally and by example. Conway rarely missed a game, tallying 1 goal and 5 assists during a stellar year as a defenseman. The Wildcats allowed just 58 goals in 35 games, just 1.66 per game.
"He is a good leader," Millett said. "Aidan is always there to hype the boys up when we do good and always ready to get better and work on the things when things aren’t the best."
Millett was no slouch this year, either. The senior came into his own as a dynamic forward.
Millett emerged as the team's most dangerous scoring threat. Millett showcased his stick skills and his sneaky shot on a nightly basis. Every game, you could count on Millett for a goal or at least an assist. He finished the year with a team-best 32 goals and 57 points, along with 25 assists, second only to Erik Galauner. Millett averaged 1.6 points per game, almost as many as opponents.
"I could go on and on about the type of player Millett is on the ice but I’m pretty sure we’d be wasting everyone’s time because you can just look at the stat sheet," Conway said. "One of the traits that I admire the most about Millett is his tenacity and his will. Greggy (Langermeier) and I always joke about how when Millett gets mad it’s like he’s a little kid who got his candy stolen. Whether it be on the ice or off, watch out when Millett taps into this. He’ll score at will or crush a homework assignment and everything in between."
Millett, Conway, and the Wildcats looked to be destined for a legendary fifth straight state title this spring. The Wildcats demolished St. Edward, 9-0, in the District Championship to cruise to the State Semifinal. A tough match with Gilmour Academy awaited them, a rematch after the Wildcats grinded out a 2-1 win in December.
But the nationwide outbreak of COVID-19 crushed the Wildcats' dreams of a five-peat. The OHSAA was forced to postpone, and eventually cancel, the state hockey tournament for the first time in history.
"Obviously when I found out that we would not be competing the planned weekend for the state championship or potentially at all, I was overwhelmed with emotion and sadness for all of my teammates especially those who were seniors or were going for their first ring," Conway said. "But when I looked up and saw tears in Millett's eyes, a flashback of our lives together overwhelmed me. I thought of skating on the rink in my yard and all the out of towns throughout the years when were little and at Ignatius. All of the great car rides and getting food after practice. So ultimately what hurt me the most was the fact that yes I would potentially never suit up again with all of my brothers who I love dearly, but there is something different that Millett and I have."
After the practice, O'Rourke hugged each and every player.
The heartbreaking end to a joyful season hurts, particularly for the seniors. O'Rourke will miss all of them, especially Millett.
"Aidan Millett is one of my favorite players that I've ever coached. He is a very nice young man, quiet and kind of sensitive but also very funny," O'Rourke said. "He has a good sense of when someone is being honest with him and when someone is fibbing to him, too, which I like and which will serve him well in life. One of the longest hugs I had at our last practice was with Aidan, for good reason – I would give him the shirt off my back and I know he would do the same for his friends, as he is fiercely loyal. We wish him nothing but the best of luck as he heads off to college next year."
Millett will never forget his time at Wildcat High.
"Being an Ignatius man and playing for the Wildcats has been something that has been so special to me, but playing with my teammates of four years and playing with family has made my time at Saint Ignatius the best time of my life so far."
The journey is not over for Conway, but it still hurts knowing that he may have played his last minute of hockey with Millett on the ice.
But Conway has plenty of hockey ahead of him. The junior will be back next year, as a captain for both the football and hockey teams.
"Aidan is an amazing player, and unfortunately our season is over, but playing with him has been amazing," Millett said. "I will surely never forget it. I know he will be an absolute monster next year and finish out his hockey career at Saint Ignatius the right way."
As for O'Rourke, he's excited to coach Conway for another year.
"Aidan is someone who leads by example on the ice, in the weight room, in the classroom and the community. That's why he was a captain this year and he will be a captain again next year. I'm glad we have another season with him, he is a pleasure to be around," O'Rourke said. "Aidan is just a super young man – a good student, a good son and brother, a good athlete, an all-around nice guy, and very humble. Any mother would be happy if her daughter were dating him."
As we all sit at home waiting for the outbreak to come to some sort of conclusion, sports are on hold.
But the brotherhood between Conway and Millett will never be canceled.
"He is my teammate, classmate, friend, and Ignatian brother, but above all, he is my blood brother," Conway said of Millett. "Whenever he’s over, my dad jokingly calls him the brother I never had. I don’t joke about that, because Millett is the brother that I DO have. There is no limit to what I would give to have one more car ride to practice, one more time getting food after practice, or one more time putting that crest on my chest with my brother, Aidan Millett."