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Home Sports NHL O'Brien backstopping Gulls to a lofty perch - College Hockey

O’Brien backstopping Gulls to a lofty perch – College Hockey


Senior Captain Goalie Conor O’Brien and his Endicott Gulls are looking to defend their 2020 CCC Championship (Photo by Endicott Athletics)

For senior goaltender Conor O’Brien, there is a whole lot of hockey yet to be played this season in the ultra-Competitive Commonwealth Conference (CCC). The Gulls are right in the mix of a season long battle among the top four teams to determine the regular season champion and seeding for the conference tournament starting next week. O’Brien doesn’t look back to his sophomore season when he was 21-4-0 with a 1.66 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage. While that team won the conference championship and was poised to face Plymouth State in the first round of the NCAA tournament before the COVID cancellation, the task is very much the here and now for a Gulls team that may be seeing the very best of their goaltender in his last year at Endicott.

“I think you have to work through stuff to keep improving your game,” said O’Brien. “Athleticism is very important, but it can be overdone. The game has slowed down for me where my comfort level and making reads with the play have really improved. There is a lot to the mental side of it and our goalie coach [Mike Geragosian] really helps me to focus on the details. There are growing pains and you need to work through slumps, but you leverage all the tools like video to help build your skills and confidence. ”

So far this season, O ”Brien has improved even on his numbers from his sophomore season. He is currently 15-5-1 with a 1.32 goals-against average and an eye-popping .952 save percentage which has his coach and teammates knowing that they are competing to win every night with their senior captain between the pipes.

“He is the first and only goaltender that I have ever had as a captain,” said head coach RJ Tolan. “He is the best I’ve ever had at the position due to his combination of athleticism and mental toughness with his competitive fire. Even on the ice he is the voice you hear – talking to his defensemen on the forecheck and breakout. He brings his voice to the team as well as his goaltending skills. When we first came back from the COVID break, I remember our first game there was just so much pent up energy that the bench was chaotic. Conor came to me and said I need to be on the bench with you to get us focused and I told him we needed him in the crease more. He is a leader in words and actions, and we are lucky to have him. ”

O’Brien wasn’t sure which hockey direction he was going to go coming from Florida and having a good but not great junior hockey experience. He had some interest from DI teams as a potential walk-on but talked to Endicott after family friend and Gull player Logan Day talked to him about going there. O’Brien talked with Tolan and quickly formed a bond that landed the netminder at Endicott and has grown today despite a rocky start to his career with the Gulls.

“After I committed to Endicott, I suffered a pretty serious knee injury that required surgery,” O’Brien noted. “I really was not sure if I was still the goalie that coach wanted but I worked hard to recover and literally was in the crease for the first game starting in my freshman year. I was surprised how fast the game was at this level and it took some time to come up that learning curve, but I always had great support and have loved playing here with my teammates and competing to win another championship and get back to the NCAA tournament . We pretty much know the “at-large bid” option is off the table, so we are going to have to do it the hard way and win the conference to get back there. I still haven’t played in an NCAA tournament game and want us all to get there this season. ”

Following Tuesday’s 5-4 loss at the University of New England, there are just two regular season games remaining with Suffolk on Friday and Salve Regina on Saturday to determine final seeding for the tournament that begins on Saturday, February 26.

“We can still hopefully move into that No. 2 spot, ”noted O’Brien. “That would give us that extra home game where we have played some very good hockey this season. The week break will help us rest up a little since we have been playing three games a week for a good stretch in the second half to make-up games lost to the protocols. Obviously, we want to go as far as we can and I would love to see us finish strong with a great playoff run. ”

With the end of his education and playing at Endicott on the near-term horizon, O’Brien is thinking about playing at the next level after graduation.

“Yeah, I definitely want to see what’s out there and give it a real shot for at least a year,” said O’Brien. “I talked to my family about it and they have been very encouraging. I’ll use the summer to train like a professional and work to find out what opportunities there are out there, be it starting at the ECHL or SPHL level – maybe something overseas. I owe it to myself to try to go to the next level and see what happens. ”

For sure, his current coach is a believer in Conor’s ability to go to the next level and will be watching with great expectation.

“I am pretty sure that if you stuck him in a professional game or crease today, he would give his team a chance to win – I hope he gets that chance and I will be watching his progress with great interest.”



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