Blast from the Past – Albie O’Connell

Born: 20th May 1976 in Watertown, MA, USA.

 

Professional/coaching stats: Elite Prospects

 

Dateline, September 2000; we’d all survived the Millennium Bug and the Bison were coming off of a 3rd place finish in the British National League and winning the Benson and Hedges Plate.

Planet Ice had just taken over the running of the team, Charlie Colon had taken over as coach from from Rick Strachan a young man entering his second professional season made his way across the Atlantic, likely not very aware just how much of an impact he would have.

 

Albie O’Connell came into British hockey with the Bison and made a real splash taking home 2nd team all star honours. Then out of nowhere he was gone again.

 

A decade on after that memorable season, O’Connell is now assistant coach of Northeastern University Huskies in Boston in the USA. An NCAA division 1 school, Northeastern play in the Hockey East conference and take part in the famous Beanpot Tournament every year against Boston College Eagles, Boston University Terriers and Harvard University Crimson.

 

Albie took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for Banners On The Wall.

 

DISCLAIMER: Some of Albie’s answers have been slightly edited for grammatical accuracy, spelling and generally to make sense

 

You are were born in Watertown which is just to the north west of Boston. It’s very much hockey playing country up there, when did you first lace up the skates?

 

5 years old

 

 

Sport is pretty much woven into the fabric of people from the Greater Boston region; I assume you were a Bruins and Red Sox fan growing up?

 

I liked the both but liked baseball much more than hockey.

 

 

You ended up playing at the prestigious St Sebastian’s School which has produced some great hockey players like Brian Boyle, Rick DiPietro, Mike Grier and others. What was it like playing in such an environment?

 

St. Sebastian’s is a good place to go to HS…I wish it was co-ed, but for the academics and the hockey program it was terrific! There is a young kid playing there right now who at some point if he keeps progressing has the ability and size to play in NHL some day.

 

You were drafted in the 5th round of the 1994 draft by the New York Islanders; did you go to Hartford, CT for the draft? What are your memories of being drafted and the Islanders?

 

I actually did go, it is an hour away from my house. I was invited by Central scouting and a few teams for interviews before. I don’t actually remember that much about it.

 

 

After graduating from St Sebastian’s and being drafted by the Islanders, you committed to Boston University; what led you to join the Terriers?

 

They were arguably the program in NCAA at the time and it was 5 minutes from my house, living in downtown Boston was attractive to me.

 

 

Looking back through the history books; 4 Beanpot trophies, 1 Hockey East title and 2 appearances at the Frozen Four, you certainly had an eventful 4 years at university. Aside from your degree, what was your proudest moment at BU?

 

Not sure…there were many great times!

 

 

You turned pro and headed to Pensecola in the ECHL for a season, how was that transition from college to the pro ranks?

 

Not very difficult. It’s a different game, two line off side at the time. Getting ice time as a first year player, I played but did not play top minutes. It was a fun year and good experience.

 

 

After a season in the ECHL, you crossed the Atlantic in 2000 to join the Bison. What led you to join us here in Basingstoke?

 

Not really sure? I did not know anything about the league or town or England. I remember flying through the night getting picked up from the airport and then playing that day down in Guildford…the world was spinning and I did not sleep on the redeye flight. (Editors note; a red eye flight is a flight that departs late at night, normally heading east. Example; from LA to New York or New York to London

 

 

What do you remember of the B&H plate final against Guildford? (The last Bison team to win any silverware)

 

I did not know the importance of it until after we won and there was a big celebration! It was a good game and you could say our goalie was better than theirs!

 

 

After a stellar season with the Bison where you were a BNL All Star, in 2001-02 you played 24 games between Cardiff Devils and Atlantic City then called it a day as a pro; what led to you ending your career so early?

 

I did not want to play any more, hated the lack of stability in life, in where you are going to live and the question of “What am I going to do?” when I am done.

 

 

You got your first big coaching job with Colby College at only 28 years old; how did that come about?

 

Luck, a guy called me and asked if I was interested, he called the head coach, I then interviewed and got the job

 

 

You’ve worked for some big name universities and now you’re back coaching for a Beanpot tournament and Hockey East side in Northeastern; how did that role under coach Greg Cronin come about?

 

I interviewed for the job when Greg first got the job, he hired someone else, the hockey world is small so he kept in contact over the years, he lost a coach in the summer and it was the right timing for me to join Northeastern.

 

 

As you’re an assistant coach, can you talk us through some of your jobs off ice during the week and on game day?

 

Big part of job is scouting/recruiting, We actively go on the road and search for players who are the right fit for our team and university.

 

 

Is it strange all those years later to be coaching in Hockey East and the Beanpot against the Terriers for Northeastern?

 

A bit, We actually beat them in the playoffs this year.

 

 

And lastly, any message for the Bison fans?

 

Hope all is well over across the big pond! Hope the summer is good for all and wish you well.

 

 

To keep tabs on Albie and the progress of the Northeastern Huskies visit them at their website.

 

 

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