Q&A with Patrick O’Sullivan

By Glen Jackson

Patrick O’Sullivan is already well on his way to becoming a household name. His clutch performance in the gold medal game of the World Junior Championships in Helsinki, Finland in January was a big step in that direction and Hockey’s Future recently ranked him 20th among the 50 top NHL prospects.

O’Sullivan was drafted first overall by the Mississauga IceDogs in the 2001 Priority Selection and he arrived to a young franchise still in disarray. In the 2001-02 season, he racked up 92 points (34 goals, 58 assists) and helped the Dogs to a modest 11-47-6-4 record, but a franchise best at the time nonetheless. Now an OHL veteran with his third regular season with the IceDogs in the books, a season in which the team went 36-21-7-4 and missed out on first place in the Central Division by just two points, O’Sullivan is setting his sights on playoff success for the Mississauga franchise first, followed by breaking in with the Minnesota Wild when camp opens.

Hockey’s Future recently spoke with the O’Sullivan as he prepared for the IceDogs’ next game versus their second round opponent in the OHL playoffs.

HF: Wild fans are very excited to see you play with the team. You’re a goal scorer who is a member of an organization that can use more goal scoring. How do you think you’ll transition to the NHL level?
PO: Hopefully it will be fairly easy. But, you know, it’s definitely a big step up. When that does happen for me it’ll take a little time to get used to it. I think I have the capabilities to play in that league and hopefully I’ll be able to do well too.

HF: Do you think you’ll be ready to play there next year?
PO: Who knows? I mean, I’m going to have to go to camp and go through that whole process and see what happens there. But certainly I’d like to give it a good shot and I think there’s definitely a chance, but there might be some things out of my hands that don’t let me even get that chance so we’ll see though.

HF: Has anyone from the Wild been in contact with you during this season?
PO: Yeah, I talk to them probably once or twice a month, and we go over some things. I think I have someone at every one of my games.

HF: Oh really?
PO: Yeah, it’s been fairly good.

HF: Is it my imagination or have you been working more on your playmaking lately rather than just relying on your goal scoring?
PO: It’s not that I’m working on my playmaking, it’s that other guys are putting the puck in the net right now and that’s good for me I think. I’ve been hurt for about two months now, so…

HF: You’re hurt right now?
PO: Oh yeah. Yeah, and I haven’t been able to play the way I usually do. It’s good though, it gives me more experience playing the game a little different way than I’m used to.

HF: The Under-18 win, the World Juniors Championship, the CHL Top Prospect Invite, the OHL awards — what hockey achievement are you most proud of?
PO: Most proud of? Oh definitely winning the World Juniors this year. If you talk to anyone they’ll tell you it was one of the best experiences of their lives, just getting a chance to go to that tournament. It was unbelievable, and winning it just makes that whole thing that much better. You know, especially with that group of guys that I was with, it was pretty unbelievable.

HF: The World Juniors seems to have really garnered a lot of attention for you.
PO: Definitely, when I came back I had three or four interviews every day for a month.

HF: Do you hope to one day play for the men’s Olympic team?
PO: Yeah, for sure. I mean if that opportunity presents itself I’d certainly take advantage of it. But that’s extremely hard. I mean, that’s once every four years. You need to have timing and a bunch of other stuff to be able to play in that. But if I ever get that chance I’ll certainly do it.

HF: What do you think of the US National Team Development Program, having spent a year in it?
PO: I thought that was really good for myself. I mean, I improved a lot there and learned a lot. It was a good experience. We were twenty 16-year-old guys playing in the junior league and the training there is phenomenal. And pretty much all those guys were the same guys that won this World Junior tournament, so you know that just shows you how good that program is.

HF: A few high profile players who have been with the IceDogs have requested a trade out in the past. Development at this stage is so important that there isn’t a lot of time to wait for situations or other problems to work themselves out. What led you to stay with Mississauga through your OHL career?
PO: Well, that was one of the things I wanted to do when I was drafted here was that I wanted to stay, and I wanted to make this organization the best it could be. And one of the things I’m pretty proud of is staying here for three years and being the only first round pick they’ve ever kept. And, you know, we’re doing really well right now and that gives me a pretty good feeling inside because I know I’ve done something here and I’ve definitely accomplished something I wanted to do.

HF: And now, you’re going to one of the newest franchises, albeit reborn, who could be seen as being in a comparable state to the IceDogs at the time you arrived. Do you relish situations where you’re relied on to that degree?
PO: Yeah, absolutely. I like to be that guy that people need to compete and want to do well. I think I play well in big games I have a lot of confidence so I’m able to handle certain situations a lot better than some people.

HF: Looking back, are you glad you chose to play in the OHL?
PO: Yeah for sure, I meant it was a tough decision for me at 16. All my buddies were going to play another two years of junior and then go to the NCAA. I had to make a different decision because I was a year younger than all those guys at the US program and it was definitely the right move for myself and I’m happy I came to the OHL.

HF: What do you like to do in your free time?
PO: Try and relax and just hang out with the guys here. I mean we don’t have much free time at all, especially right now, being the playoffs. But in the summer I like to golf and just hang out with my buddies.

HF: What type of coach do you feel suits you the best? Is there a type?
PO: I don’t know. I think I can adjust to anybody but I like coaches that try and teach and try and help you get better.

HF: Like a Jacques Lemaire…
PO: Yeah, for sure.

HF: Who has had the biggest impact on your development?
PO: There are a couple guys. I mean, definitely when I was 15 and playing in the US program, played for Mike Eaves. He definitely did a lot for me. I really wasn’t that good until I was about 14, 15 years old and he definitely helped me out. He was the first guy who thought that I had a chance of going somewhere in the future and he did a lot of things for me.

HF: How would you compare yourself as a player right now versus before the start of this season?
PO: I definitely think I’ve improved. Probably more than anything else it’s just a maturing process I think. Definitely going through that World Junior experience was good for me. Probably a better all-around player.

HF: And then to your first game in the OHL? You had a great first season, was it 92 points, I think it was?
PO: Yeah. I wish I could play a whole season now and see what I could do.

HF: Yeah, you haven’t had the same (number of) games since…
PO: No, I’ve missed 15, 16 games the last two years.

HF: And you wouldn’t be -42 anymore with this team. Or minus whatever it was (rating in your rookie year) was.
PO: Yeah, no kidding. My plus/minus is a lot better. My first game I was pretty nervous, and going into a game now it’s definitely a different feeling, and like I said it’s just about maturity.

HF: Do you have a favorite NHL player past or present?
PO: Yeah, Mike Modano is probably my favorite player. I’ve liked him since I was a lot younger. I like the way he plays.

HF: And probably because he’s American?
PO: Oh definitely because he’s American. He’s a good player and I appreciate the passion he has for the game.