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George Durso, an all-time great for the East Haven boys’ ice hockey team and a teacher in North Haven, will be inducted the East Haven Alumni Association Hall of Fame in November. (Photo courtesy of George Durso )
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George Durso recently received a phone call that brought back many memories from his ice hockey career—a career that started with East Haven Youth Hockey, continued at East Haven High School, and then went through college and even included a minor league tryout. The phone call came from longtime Yellowjackets’ Head Coach Lou Pane, who told George that he was going to be inducted into the East Haven Alumni Association Hall of Fame this November.
“It’s amazing and a huge honor to be nominated,” says George, who teaches at the Elizabeth Ives School for Special Children in North Haven. “I was not expecting it at all, but I’m very happy, and I can’t wait.”
George helped East Haven win a Division II state championship as a senior in 1998. He says that getting the call from such an influential figure like Pane “brought me right back to those times.”
“That 1998 team and all my years of youth hockey growing up in East Haven, time with Coach Pane, Coach [Butch] DiLungo, and other amazing people showed me the way of the game and lot of life lessons,” George says. “Coach Pane is just so passionate about the game and teaching all his players what it is to be a good person and a great hockey player and to learn to love the game.”
While George extends a lot of credit to the coaches that he’s played for, he’s quick to point out that his hockey career started with his father. Some of George’s earliest memories are watching the Montreal Canadiens play on TV—something that George and his dad still do to this day.
“My dad really taught me to love the game,” says George, who lives in West Haven with his fiancée Colleen Swiller and their two dogs. “My parents were always there for me, supporting me, traveling to wherever I played. Even in college, they traveled everywhere to watch me play.”
A 1998 graduate, George was a four-year starter for the Yellowjackets who earned All-Southern Connecticut Conference and New Haven Register All-Area honors on two occasions. He’s also East Haven’s all-time leading scorer for defensemen with 118 points, including a career-high of 13 goals and 38 assists during his senior year.
“Over the years, you’d go in the rink and look at the old articles and see who holds the record and, little by little, teammates and coaches would mention, ‘Hey, you’re getting close to that,’” George says. “I wasn’t looking to break it, but we wanted to win that championship, and it was pretty emotional and impressive that it still holds.”
Another piece of East Haven hockey history that George got to be a part of was winning the program’s first and only state championship. The Yellowjackets made the Division II state final every year that George was on the squad and then came out on top in his senior season.
“It’s amazing that we reached the finals in all four years,” he says. “The first three were unfortunate, but by senior year, to accomplish that goal with that group I grew up with was remarkable.”
Coach Pane says that George “was one of the best all-around defensemen in the history of East Haven hockey.” George still holds the record for the best plus-minus mark in a season with a plus-68, beating Pane’s previous record of plus-63.
After high school, George was a starting defenseman with the Connecticut Junior Wolves of the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League, playing under Coach Dan McCarthy, a former NHL player. George then attended American International College (AIC), where he walked on to the school’s Division I squad and ultimately played in more than 100 games.
“Playing for the Wolves was a great year after high school while I figured out what my next step was,” says George. “Playing that extra year helped physically and emotionally, because it’s a whole other world once you get to college.
George studied criminal justice at AIC. When college ended, he hoped to continue his hockey career. George spent some time participating in minor league training camps, games, and tryouts in Oklahoma City. Although he didn’t make the cut, George says that it was still a great experience.
George returned to Connecticut and joined Pane as an assistant coach with the Yellowjackets for the 2003-’04 season. During that time, George realized how much he enjoyed working with young people and decided to pursue a career in special education.
“Teaching was something that never really crossed my mind, but I knew I wanted to give back,” George says. “Recently, I remembered a conversation with Coach Pane where he suggested I consider teaching, but I shrugged it off. He was on to something. Once I found that avenue, it opened up a whole new world for me.”
Coach Pane says that George’s personality makes him an ideal teacher.
“George’s demeanor is so positive and rewarding. His motivation and positive influence carries on to his students,” says Pane. “His students are truly benefiting by him being their teacher.”
After George received his certificate from Southern Connecticut State University, one of his friends mentioned that the Elizabeth Ives School for Special Children in North Haven was looking for a one-on-one aide for a student. George got the job, and he’s been teaching at the school for the past 13 years.
“I love the different ways you get to change the lives of many different kids,” George says. “It’s similar to hockey in that you’ve got to be prepared every day and ready to give the kids your best. They look up to you like we did with our coaches.”
George teaches elementary-aged children and, with mixed classrooms, he often works with many of the same students for multiple years in a row—something that he enjoys. Hockey is never too far from George’s mind, and he shares his love for the sport with his students. He also runs an end-of-the-year floor hockey tournament for them.
“I like to do floor hockey with them and teach them the history and different aspects of the game,” says George. “The kids look forward to the tournament all year. It’s a great way for kids to try it who normally wouldn’t get a chance to be part of a sports team.”
When it comes to hockey, there is one thing that matters most to George: a passion for the sport. George believes that’s the biggest factor behind the success that he’s experienced on the ice.
“You have to love the game first and be happy with what you’re doing,” George says. “It was always a dream to take it as far as I can. My father wanted me to love the game and understand the game—the history of it, the famous players—and for me, it’s the greatest sport on earth. I could really look back and say I lived my dream and took it as far as I could.”
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