Drew O’Connor ’22 spurs hockey team’s offensive surge
Drew O’Connor ’22 has had a successful freshman campaign thus far, leading the team with 15 points. Courtesy of Drew O'Connor.
In just his first season of college hockey, Drew O’Connor ’22 has become an offensive weapon for the men’s hockey team. He leads the team with 15 points and is second in goals scored this season.
O’Connor, from Chatham, N.J., comes from a family of hockey players. His father introduced him to the game when he was three years old, and he played with his older brother growing up.
After playing a few years of prep school hockey at Delbarton School in Morristown, N.J., O’Connor began playing for the North Jersey Avalanche U18 team.
“It was a chance for me to stay at home another year, and I thought it was the best place for me to develop,” O’Connor said. “It was a good place for me to play.”
O’Connor spent last year playing junior hockey for the Boston Jr. Bruins in the National Collegiate Development Conference, where he played with current Big Green teammate Harrison Markell ’22.
“Learning to be able to play and play well in every game and not take any days off prepared me well for this,” O’Connor said.
Men’s hockey head coach Bob Gaudet ’81 and his staff spotted O’Connor’s talent early on.
“The thing that always jumped out about him was that he had a great vision of the ice,” Gaudet said. “He’s a really smart hockey player, and hockey sense is a huge part of the game.”
Gaudet credits assistant coach John Rose for being the first on his staff to see O’Connor play.
O’Connor saw a great fit between himself and the Dartmouth hockey program when he visited campus.
“I had always wanted to go to an Ivy League school to play hockey,” he said. “After visiting here, I figured there was no good reason I shouldn’t come because I liked everything about it. Playing Division I hockey has always been my dream, so I was fortunate to be able to come here and play.”
O’Connor made an immediate impact on the team from the first few weeks of preseason practice. Gaudet said he always seemed to possess the puck and showed his ability to score goals in small areas.
O’Connor went into the beginning of the season unsure of what to expect.
“I just wanted to come in and work as hard as I could and get as much playing time as possible and try to work my way into the lineup,” he said.
While the coaching staff knew they had something special, O’Connor himself did not know if he would even be playing in the first game of the season against Harvard University until a few days before the game.
“Fortunately, that game went pretty well. We were able to win, and I did pretty well in that,” he said. “After that, I think that helped build my confidence and made me realize that I could play at this level.”
O’Connor scored one goal and added two assists in that game to help the Big Green defeat the Crimson 7-6.
As the season progressed, O’Connor became one of the Big Green’s top assets. Through the first six games, he had seven points. One of his favorite games of the year came a few weeks ago when he tallied a goal and an assist against Princeton University in his home state of New Jersey.
“We won 5-1 back there, and I had a lot of family and friends there to watch because I’m from New Jersey,” he said. “To be able to score a goal in that game too was pretty special in front of a lot of family.”
Linemate Carl Hesler ’18 called O’Connor a dynamic player.
“He can move extremely well for his size and is very skilled,” Hesler said. “He has excellent hands and a great shot. I love playing with him because he has confidence in his game and makes plays. He has the intangibles as well as he is competitive and works extremely hard. It feels like I’m playing with an upperclassman, not a freshman.”
Despite the personal accolades, O’Connor is focused on the team goal of winning an ECAC championship.
“It’s definitely a good feeling to help the team that way, but I don’t think that’s what we are really concerned about,” he said. “It’s more about being able to win games as a team. Everybody contributes a lot in different ways.”
O’Connor’s confidence has grown due to his success on the ice this season.
“Confidence with any player goes in and out,” he said. “I think when you start doing well, you start to build that confidence and momentum. I think that’s how this season has gone for me. I’m playing with a lot of confidence.”
Gaudet believes O’Connor receives a lot of confidence from playing on a line with Hesler. O’Connor added that Hesler is a great mentor to him.
“He’s a senior, so he’s done it [for] a while now,” he said. “He’s very helpful in terms of saying the right stuff on the bench to help us refocus. He plays a complete game, so he’s responsible in the defensive zone and he’s helped me a lot with that.”
O’Connor also appreciates the advice he has received from Will Graber ’20. “Another kid I kind of look up to is [Graber]. He’s really helped me a lot throughout the season as well.”
O’Connor and Hesler have spent most of the year playing on a line with Jeff Losurdo ’22, who O’Connor got to play against while with the Jr. Bruins last year.
“As soon as they put us together as a line, we had some chemistry,” O’Connor said.
Gaudet enjoys how the three players complement each other’s games.
“[O’Connor and Losurdo] both come from a good league, a junior league in the East, and played a good level of hockey,” Gaudet said. “They’re both good-sized kids with a lot of reach, good goal-scoring ability and good vision. Carl is kind of the stability of that line at the center position.”
Hesler echoed a similar sentiment, agreeing that the line is a tough group to stop.
“I think we complement each other well in that I work hard to get [O’Connor] the puck so he can have the opportunity to do his thing,” he said.
In addition to his skill level on the ice, his work ethic is an attribute that has stood out to Gaudet.
“His future is really bright,” Gaudet said. “When you see him, he’s a guy that lights up a room. He’s got a smile on his face all the time, and he just loves being around the rink, playing hockey. He loves Dartmouth. He’s a really positive, uplifting guy to be around.”
While his offensive statistics are some of the best among freshman college hockey players, Gaudet is impressed with the development of O’Connor’s defensive game.
“He’s been an offensive player growing up, but at this level you have to play 200 feet, so you have to be a defensive player also,” he said. “That’s what I can see in his future. He could be a guy that could play against anybody’s top line as a college player as he progresses.”
While he is still a freshman, O’Connor wants to continue his hockey career past his time at Dartmouth.
“We’ll see how the rest of my career here goes,” he said. “I’d like to keep improving, getting better every year here, and then seeing what happens after college.”
Hesler thinks O’Connor has the potential to one day play in the National Hockey League.
“His skill set and size are what scouts look for today, and the fact that he has three more years after this to improve his skating and strength is scary,” Hesler said. “I believe if Drew keeps progressing, he can become one of the top players in college hockey much like similar player and teammate Will Graber has.”
Gaudet agrees with Hesler and believes the sky’s the limit for O’Connor.
“What’s going to get him there is his work ethic and dedication,” he said. “What I want Drew to do is continue to work hard and help the team in whatever way he can. I just want him to continue to progress as a complete Division I college hockey player. He’s well on his way.”