It was the 2014 Division III Connecticut hockey state championship and Jon Lovorn felt an eerie sensation sweep through the crowd.
His team, Newtown High School, had just taken back the momentum from E.O Smith-Tolland High School with a game-tying goal near the end of the first period. No. 26 Cooper Mclean passed to No. 14 Lovorn. Lovorn found No. 12 Connor Hanley, who scored the goal.
It came 15 months after gunman Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012, and took 26 lives. On the scoring sheet, the goal put those same three numbers in a row, 12-14-26. It was the date and the number of victims together in one sequence.
Those numbers are associated with a tragedy that shook the foundation of a community and most of the country. When the announcer read it over the loud speaker, the crowd fell silent.
“Everyone heard the three numbers and thought, ‘There’s no way that’s a coincidence,’ ” Lovorn said. “It was just a sign, in a game where it was all E.O. Smith-Tolland, that moment was a sign of hope.”
Newtown flipped the momentum and went on to win its first state championship in school history, 2-1. Lovorn, now a senior defenseman for Alabama hockey, moved to Newtown from Illinois before his junior year of high school. That was just five months before the shooting occurred.
He found himself taken aback by the strength of the community, even in the face of tragedy.
Heading into his senior season, he left his juniors team, the Brewster Bulldogs, to represent Newtown on the ice and play for his high school.
“It was definitely there,” Lovorn said of the tragedy. “It was definitely prevalent. It was a big reason why I decided to play for my high school my senior year.”
Now in his final season with Alabama, Lovorn knew he needed to do something to honor his adopted hometown.
Before every game, he slips on his jersey, which features a giant No. 26 on the back. He changed to No. 26 from No. 21 at the start of the season to honor the number of victims in the shooting.
When his gear is on, he finds a quiet spot and puts a sticker on his helmet right above a piece of tape that reads, “Never forget 12-14-12.” The sticker features the name of a different victim each game.
Lovorn uses the moment to quietly self-reflect on the victim that he’s honoring that game. It’s his moment to be within his thoughts.
“It’s all behind the scenes,” Alabama hockey coach Kyle Richards said. “This weekend was the first time I saw him putting on the sticker. He does it because he wants people to realize that people still think about what happened.”
Lovorn approached Richards, who is in his first year as coach, before the season to tell him about his plans to honor his hometown.
It started as just a number change, but then Lovorn decided to do more by adding in the stickers for each game when he realized he had 26 games left in his career.
It was his decision and is his source of motivation throughout his senior season.
“It’s humbling to watch the message grow and expand through the platform of hockey, which has been a part of my life since I was 4,” Lovorn said. “Being able to use that platform for a message that is so much bigger than a game of hockey has been awesome to do.”
Alabama hockey, Lovorn and his mother, Gail, have all used social media to make sure Lovorn’s dedication reaches the victim’s families and the city of Newtown.
— Alabama Hockey (@AlabamaHockey) December 11, 2017
Gail personally posts to two different Facebook pages and reaches out to the Sandy Hook Promise organization.
“So far, all of the reactions have been positive,” Gail said. “They’re excited to have something positive spoken of about the town instead of just the negative that happened here.”
Lovorn also plans to sit down and write letters to the families of the victims during the holidays. With the five-year anniversary happening Thursday, he and many other members of the Newtown community still have the tragedy on their minds.
Last week, Lovorn and Pauline Fitzgerald, a senior at Alabama who also is from Newtown, attended a candlelight vigil in Tuscaloosa for victims of gun violence.
It came five years after Fitzgerald and Lovorn attended a similar vigil in Newtown, the night of the shooting.
“Jon [Lovorn] told me that night that he had never seen bags of candles since it had happened,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s what they had the other night. It was difficult for us, but as time goes on, it gets a little easier.”
The vigil, the number change, the piece of tape and the individual stickers are a way for Lovorn to remember and give back to a town that shaped him as a person.
On Feb. 24, 2018, Lovorn will participate in senior night on what is likely to be his last home game for Alabama.
He will warm up in a No. 26 jersey with the nameplate “Newtown Strong.” A sticker will be on his helmet with the name Allison N. Wyatt, one of the children who was killed that day.
Even though he lived elsewhere for most of his life, Lovorn calls Newtown home. When senior night comes, he will know he has done all he can to bring a positive light to a town that has suffered through so much negative.
“Newtown and hockey are so interwoven into who I am,” Lovorn said. “One fits perfectly with the other one. I’ve said it so many times, it’s unbelievably amazing to see how many people have gotten behind what I’ve put out there.”