Defenseman Doug O’Brien is the top defenseman on the Springfield Falcons, an alternate captain on the farm squad of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Falcons haven’t exactly been seeing the same type of success as the second-year pro has had personally, however.
“The team has struggled a little bit,” he said of the team, who reside in sixth place in the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division. “But all you can do is come to the rink and work hard every day, and we do that. But, once you get into the game, we seem to have breakdowns here and there which end up costing us most nights.”
Sporting a 22-33-3-6 record, fourth from the bottom of the league, the Falcons will almost certainly not see the postseason for the second straight year. Through the team’s struggles, however, the 22-year-old has continued to improve his individual game. Aside from his solid work ethic, O’Brien is a very good skater and a smart hockey player. He also shows some good offensive ability, as he leads all Falcons defensemen with 26 points (6 goals, 20 assists). But he’ll tell you that’s not where his focus lies.
“I just try to be solid defensively,” the 6’1, 190-pounder said. “I want to take care of my side of the ice. I try to jump into the offense a little bit when it’s there, but the biggest part of the game for a defenseman is to stay at home and play defense, so I try to concentrate on my game and do what has to be done and I try and do the best I can.”
While the skilled rearguard would rather understate his offensive prowess, head coach Dirk Graham sees the potential for scoring points, as he gives him significant time quarterbacking the power play.
“He has an offensive side to him,” Graham said. “He thinks the game very well, he’s a very intelligent hockey player. I think he has a nice balance of both. Defensively, he’s sound and offensively, he’s capable of chipping in a little bit.”
Chipping in on the offense was something O’Brien did an awful lot of in a junior career that saw him reach two Memorial Cup final berths with the Gatineau Olympiques (formerly Hull Olympiques) of the QMJHL. In his final two seasons, O’Brien put up 107 points in 137 games.
While still putting up decent numbers for a poor team in the AHL, O’Brien brings an excellent all-around game to the table. His rookie campaign was a bit of a shock to the system at first, even spending three games in the ECHL with the Johnstown Chiefs, but he said he took it as a valuable experience.
“It was definitely an adjustment because you’re playing against men that are sometimes 15 years older than you and a lot stronger and faster,” he said of the 2004-05 season. “It was definitely a learning year and it was a bit of an adjustment.”
Now in his second season with Springfield, O’Brien’s role on the team in evolving along with his play on the ice. He’s been playing paired with Gerard Dicaire, and plays in every situation. His coach is pleased with the progress he’s made thus far this season, and thinks the promising backliner will only continue to get better.
“Doug’s progress has been good as far as his development as a player,” said Graham. “He’s really rounded into a leader for us over the last little while, so his development is coming along nicely, and I think he’s growing every day.”
The St. John’s, Newfoundland native has a future with the big club.
“It was definitely exciting,” he said of being drafted by the team. “It was an honor to be drafted by Tampa. Obviously, they won the Stanley Cup the last time the NHL played, and they have a tremendous amount of great players in the organization and I’m very honored to be a part of that.”
The former sixth round pick in 2003 made his NHL debut on Jan. 29 with the Lightning, and played two games, averaging 10:03 in ice time before being reassigned back to the Falcons.
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