PHOTO: Bill Meltzer/NHL.com
“Putting that Philly jersey on, on the stage, was unbelievable.”
It was a moment that time stood still for then 18-year-old Jay O’Brien in Dallas, Texas as he was selected 19th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1st round of the National Hockey League Entry Draft. The road to Dallas was an exciting one for O’Brien, who played two seasons at Dexter School before finishing his high school hockey at Thayer Academy, located in Braintree, Massachusetts and about a 20 minute drive from O’Brien’s home in Hingham.
“It was an awesome experience, being able to play for Tony Amonte as a coach,” O’Brien mentioned, “I’m actually living with Tristan when I come to Penticton so that connection is awesome to have. When you grow up in Massachusetts, everybody wants to play prep hockey and there’s so many good prep schools around the area. You grow up watching Miles Wood,Ryan Donato, Cam Atkinson and a ton of other guys that are in the NHL that played prep school and there’s a lot of talent around New England.”
It was a night filled with emotion on June 22nd, 2018 for O’Brien and his family in Dallas as the 1st round of the NHL Draft began, “I was already sweating because it was 102 degrees in Dallas with a suit on,” O’Brien said, “I’m friends with Brady Tkachuk, Quinn Hughes and all the American guys so growing up with them and talking with them, knowing we are getting drafted was just surreal. Watching them go before me, I couldn’t have been happier for them and all the other guys I know that got drafted.”
“I think it was about the 10th to 13th pick that I was thinking ‘I think I could go here'” O’Brien continued, “I don’t think I said a word before I got drafted, just soaking it all in and feeling a ton of different emotions. Once it happened and I heard my name called, giving my family hugs is something I will never forget. Putting that Philly jersey on on the stage was unbelievable.”
The 5’11”, 185-pound forward moved into his freshman year of college, attending Providence College as an 18-year-old and learning a lot while on the ice and off the ice, “We had a pretty deep run into the playoffs, making the Frozen Four tournament,” O’Brien explained, “Being an 18-year-old coming in and experiencing going that far was something pretty special. It was great to experience that and how much it took to get that far into the year and I was able to learn so much from being one of the youngest guys in college hockey, it felt like being a freshman in high school again.”
“Going from high school and living at home to being away and living on your own, Mom’s not making steak dinners for you anymore,” O’Brien joked, “The schooling was the biggest thing, being prepared for your classes and manage your time as best as you can. There’s a lot of stuff going on away from hockey as well so I was able to get into a groove after a while, going to the rink and doing your thing before getting back and doing school and homework so the biggest thing for me was finding a balance between school and hockey.”
During the season, O’Brien had a chance to represent his country on an international stage as he joined Team USA at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Victoria. Earning a silver medal at the tournament, it was an experience of a lifetime, “Playing in the World Juniors is something that I will never forget,” O’Brien said, “It was awesome, we had such an unbelievable group and the coaches were amazing. When you’re waking up on Christmas morning and you’re together as a team, it was really cool. It felt surreal and was just such an awesome experience.”
It was a big summer for the 20-year-old forward in finding a destination to play for the upcoming 2019/20 season. Getting into Penticton for a visit, O’Brien knew right away, “Honestly, right when I got to the rink and met Fred and the staff, it felt like I was at a pro facility and I felt at home,” commented O’Brien, “It’s beautiful there and I wanted to go to a place where it was all about the hockey and that’s the feel I got from Penticton and the town.”
“The amount of fans they get and how the rink is set up, everything is first class,” O’Brien continued, “The schooling aspect was a big part of it too, they’ve had a lot of success moving guys along. I’ve talked to a lot of guys like Ty (Amonte) and (Dante) Fabbro that played for the Vees and I haven’t heard one bad thing about Penticton or the BCHL. It’s going to be an incredible season, we’ve got a good group coming in and I can’t wait to get out there.”
Another big decision for O’Brien to make during this offseason was making a college commitment and as a Massachusetts kid, Boston University was extremely appealing, “I know a lot of guys who have gone there and, similar to Penticton, I didn’t hear one bad thing about it,” O’Brien recalled, “Everybody loved the program and playing for BU, they love their hockey there and I wanted to go to a place where hockey was a big thing.”
Getting a chance to work out in Boston with NHL guys in Kevin Hayes, Keith Yandle and Brian Boyle is something O’Brien relishes in, “The older guys keep the room light, there are a lot of jokes being thrown around,” O’Brien said, “I’m a guy that doesn’t skate too much during the summer. I like to let my body heal and work on getting bigger and stronger; once I started skating about a week ago, it feels great and my legs feel fresh and I get the rhythm back real quick.”
O’Brien and the rest of the Vees are set to hit the ice in August 19th ahead of the 2019/20 season with the first game of the exhibition schedule taking place on Wednesday, August 21st in West Kelowna against the Warriors. Season tickets are on sale now and are available by contacting Laura Carleton at (250) 493-8337 ext. 4.