Since 2012, goaltender Connor Leslie and defenseman Stephen ‘Max’ Thiessen have been members of the Washington Little Caps. Now approaching the end of their eighth and final season, they are the longest serving members of the club and the highly decorated 2001 birth year. When they depart in the spring, they will have played on every team in the club’s ladder; PeeWee, Bantam, 15u, 16u, and 18u. They are winners of the four consecutive PVAHA Championships, three consecutive USA Hockey Southeast District Championships, and have participated in three consecutive USA Hockey National Championships. Next month, they and their teammates hope to extend those District and National Championship streaks to four. And most importantly, Connor and Max are model student-athletes, with distinguished track records in academics, character, and excellence on the ice.
We spoke with former and current teammates and coaches about what Connor and Max have meant to them and this club these past eight years.
Brent Johnson (current WLC Goalie Coach):
When I recall my first time on the ice with Connor... I think back to how I was absolutely blown away by his footwork and control. I was shocked that this kid could be so far along as an 11-year-old. Since that time, Connor has worked to improve that skill set each time out, making him one of the best Little Caps goalies that has come through this organization. Throughout that process, he has made every one of his teammates around him much better as a result. He is a dedicated student of the position and his coachability is off the charts. It has been a privilege to work with him all these years and I am certain that whatever path Connor chooses in life will be a successful one.
Mac Robertson (former teammate):
Connor was always a leader since I came to the Little Caps my first year of Bantam. He was welcoming from the start and we became friends pretty quickly. He always laid it on the line for the team. One game stands out in my mind, it was when we were playing the Avalanche and he faced 60 shots. He was getting peppered the whole entire game and we were not playing our best— leaving him on an island by himself. But he never gave up. He played an amazing game and without him we would have never won that game, and a bunch of other games as well. He has always been a very solid goalie and I always had 100% trust in him in the net. He has been one of my closest friends I’ve made during my time with WLC and I want to congratulate him on this great feat.
Doug Plocki (Executive Director and former Head Coach):
It was a privilege to coach Connor for two years. He is an outstanding young man, and a fierce competitor. You can see that in the respect and love his teammates show him. His confidence was infectious and made every team he played on a better squad. But I don’t think I realized his importance and stature in this organization until recently, as we were preparing for team meeting. I passed a group of players on the balcony watching the 18 team practice. As I passed, I overheard the players recalling the first time they “beat“ Connor Leslie. They could remember it vividly, and it was clearly something they were proud to report to their friends. If players across the organization can clearly remember the first time they snuck one past the goalie, clearly that goalie has had a major impact on every player up and down the ranks. Connor is that special type of player. I’m very proud of him. We will all miss him, but we are all equally looking forward to watch him continue his career.
Travis Russell (former WLC Goalie Coach):
He's been an amazing teammate to the other goalie on his team every single year. He always knew when to support the other goalie and when to push them. At times he was in a competition for playing time and other times he was the #1 goalie and leading by example. He thrived in both opportunities. He came to the rink with a smile on his face every single day. He enjoyed being with his teammates and competing. One of my favorite times to watch Connor was during goalie sessions and goalie specific drills. He always wanted to be the best goalie out there and it didn't matter whether he was the youngest or oldest goalie on the ice. You could always tell he was more interested in team success than any individual stats. That's a fun thing to see in a world where stats are available at every level. He is an amazing kid and one of the major reasons I kept coming back to coach the WLC. I wish I would have been able to remain with the club longer in order to see him until the end.
Adam Varga (former teammate):
Connor was one of my best friends growing up. I first met him when we played for the Washington All-Stars together. We travelled to tournaments in cities such as Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Toronto, and Montreal. I’ll never forget the time we took a tour of the Montreal Canadiens locker room and seeing how happy he was to see the stall of one of his idols, Carey Price. It’s those little things that you remember forever. After the Washington All-Star days, we went our separate ways and competed against one another when I played for the Philadelphia Jr. Flyers. I always loved to score on him and would rub it in after the game in the handshake line. Karma soon prevailed when we clashed in the playoffs. In the round-robin, we faced off against the Little Caps which is where I scored a hat trick and my team won. The next day, we played them in the semi-finals and lost. Connor shut us out and led his team to the championship. Connor is resilient. No matter the performance, he always remained humble and kept his head up. If he had a bad game, he would take full accountability and bounce back stronger. Connor always strived to be the best version of himself. He is one of the main reasons of why the 2001 birth year was so remarkably successful. Connor is more than an athlete; he is an amazing person and a true friend. He was always positive in the room and made the people around him smile. For sure, one of my favorite teammates growing up!
Lyon Messier (former Head Coach):
I don’t think there is a person more deserving of recognition. Connor is what every coach wants on his team— he’s the real deal. He’s a competitor, leader, and great kid on and off the ice. I really believe it comes from his family- Amy and Sean Leslie are amazing people that helped the Washington Little Caps improve as an organization. I really look forward to seeing what Connor decides to do because the sky is the limit for him. Thanks for making us better people and better coaches!
Victor Hugo, Jr. (former teammate):
There is so much to say about Connor as a player and as a person. He is by far the best goalie I have ever played with. I remember countless times that Connor stood on his head and kept us in games. One moment that sticks out to me was our U15 year together during the NAPHL playoffs. Connor was lights out during that tournament. He led us to the first ever Little Caps U15 NAPHL championship. I remember in the championship game of the NAPHL tournament we let a guy get in behind us for a breakaway early on into the first period. Connor came up with a huge save, we rallied behind his energy and performance, and we went down and scored a goal the shift after. He had a habit of coming up with unbelievable saves against some of the best competition in the country. As a person, Connor is the type of guy that you always want around because he’ll lighten the mood and make all the guys feel included. I have been lucky enough to play with him for five years and he has made me a better person and player. I know he will excel at whatever he hopes to do in the future, and I wish him the best of luck.
Derek Sanborn (current 18u Asst. Coach):
When I think of Connor, I think of a young man who is confident, a competitor, and a leader. He has a calming presence to him but there is a competitor burning within in. I remember last year when Connor called his own shot. Due to the goalie rotation, it wasn’t going to be his game, but he asked if we could change the rotation so he could get a chance to take down Team Illinois. I saw another side of Connor that day. He came out that afternoon with a little more snarl than I see out of him and played a flawless game. He shut out a very good Team Illinois. His play on the ice is only part of what Connor brings to the table. I know the guys really look to Connor as a leader. He may not be the loudest guy, but when Connor speaks, the guys listen. Connor has been a great asset to the Washington Little Capitals organization, and it’s been great working with him.
Zack Murray (current teammate):
Connor has always been one of my closest friends on the team. We have a big rivalry in practice, keeping track of who scores or saves more shots every day, and I make sure to let him hear it when I put one bar down on him. We’re always pushing each other to be better and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.
Matt Thomas (current 18u Head Coach)
I’ve been spoiled at the goaltender position for a very long time; for almost a decade I’ve been on a team where I absolutely knew our goalie was going to give his teammates a chance to win. Connor Leslie is the most recent reason that streak is alive today. In my two years with him, I honestly can’t think of a night where he was outplayed by a guy at the other end of the rink. Others are perhaps better suited to comment on his growth… I can only comment on his excellence. Not many teams and coaches are so lucky. Perhaps more amazing is just how easy he’s been to coach and manage; he gets excellent grades, he’s a model citizen and teammate, and he works like every day is tryouts. I’m reminded of the old cliché, “every coach needs three things… a patient wife, a loyal dog, and a hot goalie.” Time and again, Connor held up his end of that trifecta. And in AAA hockey, you should probably add to that saying something about a dedicated Team Manager… fittingly, ours has been Amy Leslie, Connor’s mom, and another reliable pillar for this squad. Connor will be missed, but we’re excited to see what’s next.
Stephen ‘Max’ Thiessen
Mac Robertson (former teammate):
I have been with Max since I was a bantam. Max has always been a team player and his stats or personal achievements never got in the way. I remember one year where he gave up his spot at forward and went back and helped us out on D. That took a lot of courage and selflessness to be able to try to learn a new position during the middle of the year. Max has always been a quiet kid, but once you got to know him and get him to open up he was very funny and one of the most caring kids I’ve ever met. I want to congratulate him on this great accomplishment as well.
Doug Plocki (former Head Coach):
Max is a study in perseverance rewarded. He has been on some teams with some pretty flashy teammates over his long little caps career, and has quietly gone about his business letting his work ethic drive the development of his considerable skill. It’s great to see him rewarded now with an opportunity to advance in the game. Max is a solid human being, and a great teammate. He’s the kind of player you want to see thrive. It’s been a pleasure working with him, and it will be exciting to see how far he will go.
Adam Varga (former teammate):
Max Thiessen, one of the most hard-working guys I have ever played with. He wasn’t always the biggest, but that did not matter. The saying, “height doesn’t measure heart” perfectly describes Max. No matter who he went up against, he always competed and wanted to win. His work ethic inspired those around him including myself. Without his efforts I would’ve never been able to go and watch LeBron play! Here’s a funny story. Our team went up to Detroit, Michigan for the NAPHL Playoffs. On the drive up with my mom, I was thinking of the things we could do in our off time. Turns out, one of my idols growing up, LeBron James was playing against the Detroit Pistons the next day. My mother promised that she would buy me tickets if I scored a hat trick in my next game. We played Victory Honda, one of the top teams in the nation. I was paired up with Max on the 1st line that game. Before the game I made sure to tell him that we both needed hat tricks by the end of the 3rd period. We won that game and the score was 6-2. Who scored you might ask? Max and I both combined for all 6 goals, with each of us scoring hat tricks. I think Max had 2 assists to go along with his 3 goals as well. Later that night, I was at LeBron’s game. Big thank you to Max’s amazing performance.
Lyon Messier (former Head Coach):
Seeing Max develop each year and put in the work was pretty amazing to watch. He was the best teammate; he would do anything for the team without blinking an eye. Changing positions, embracing new roles… he’s a class act—loves the game and his teammates. I wish Max nothing but the best, and I know he’s going to be successful in anything he does.
Victor Hugo Jr. (former teammate):
Thiessen is an incredible person and hockey player. When I first made the little caps, he was the first person to greet me and welcome me to the team. He helped me get accustomed to the new atmosphere and he made my adjustment way smoother than it would have been if I was alone. As a player, he is so versatile. He can play any position well. When I first joined the team, he was a forward. Then during one game, we were short on defensemen due to injuries, so our coach brought Thiessen back to help out, and he excelled. He is a fluid skater with great hands and a very high hockey IQ. He makes heads up plays and sometimes it baffles me how he is able to place the puck on the forwards sticks during a breakout. One of my favorite memories I have with Thiessen was my U18 year during regionals. At the time, we were playing with four defensemen. Thiessen, who is traditionally a quiet kid, stepped up and became a leader during that entire weekend, eventually getting an assist on the game winning goal that would send us to nationals.
Derek Sanborn (current 18u Asst. Coach):
Max has been a great example of what hard work and focus can create. He comes to the rink every day to practice with the goal of getting better. He is one of the most fluid skaters on the rink at any given time. Pair his skating with his 2 way play and it makes him a real weapon on the ice. Max was a key part of our 2018-19 National Championship run. Max was one of only 4 defensemen available. He played every other shift for 4 games in 4 days, even on Olympic sized ice to help get us to Nationals. Tired, hurt, it didn’t matter he just kept battling. One of my funniest memories with Max is his hair. He would come off the ice after a rough shift and his hair would be disheveled to the point it was in his eyes. I asked him how he could possibly see. He would just smirk and shrug his shoulders and tell me he was still able to make plays. After about 3 months of me asking this, I saw a more trimmed Max Thiessen. I’m happy to call Max Thiessen a Washington Little Capital.
Zack Murray (current teammate):
Max is probably the most improved player that I’ve seen in the program since I came u16 year. Switching from forward to defense is a hard thing to do as it is— but doing it at 15 just makes it that much harder. He embraced the change and altered his game to become one of best defenseman the last two season for our u18 team. He is proof that forwards really can play defense and excel at it.
Matt Thomas (current 18u Head Coach):
There is an interesting backstory about Max that you really need to know in order to understand who he is. Here’s the short version: I didn’t quite cut him before the 2018-19 season, but I did challenge him to have a big summer if he wanted to be on the squad. Suffice to say, he never complained, never whined… he just quietly went out and had a huge summer. August rolls around… and he was pretty much immediately one of our top defensemen. Not many guys can answer the bell like that. We’ve never really spoken at length what that period meant to him, but whether he saw it as a brief setback or a major hurdle… it’s all just folk lore at this point. The more important aspect is he hasn’t stopped his momentum from that pivotal moment-- he continues to get better and better each day. I tell that story because Max might fool you a little… you’ll see the excellent grades, outstanding character, warm personality… it might all be a little misleading if you don’t know the full story… you might just assume that everything in life comes easy to him. The truth is that Max has a quiet grit and determination that few others possess. Those traits aren’t part-time; guys who conquer adversity tend to do it again and again. I know wherever he finds himself in life, he’ll be a success.
Thank you, Connor and Max, for your many years of service and stewardship in our club! Best of luck to each of you in the years ahead.