Hometown hopeful

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Robin Short
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Zach O'Brien looks to crack IceCaps' roster

Zach O’Brien is willing to do whatever it takes to stick with his hometown team, even if it means altering his game from one of a 50-goal scorer to a player with a defence-first mindset.

Zach O'Brien skates after a puck during an Ice Caps' practice in St. John's recently. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

Either way, the St. John’s native is in tough cracking the IceCaps’ American Hockey League roster, and the opportunity to make an impression begins tonight when he suits up in the IceCaps’ first game of the year, an exhibition against the Syracuse Crunch 7:30 p.m. at Mile One Centre.

O’Brien wasn’t just invited to St. John’s training camp as a token local. Rather, with 126 goals in the past three seasons with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan, the five-foot-10, 190-pound centre has proven he can play.

Back-to-back seasons of 50 and 47 goals speak of O’Brien’s skill.

“My goal, obviously, is to stick around here,” O’Brien said at training camp this week. “I’ll play whatever role they want of me. They know I’m an offensive guy, but maybe if they think I can play good enough defensively they’ll keep me around.

“Put it this way: I’ll do what it is they need me to do.”

Problem for O’Brien is the IceCaps have 36 players in camp, 26 of whom are under contract. And to give you an idea of the competition at camp, Phillip-Michael Devos who, like O’Brien, is in St. John’s on a professional tryout, played the past two seasons with the Norfolk Admirals and Crunch, winning the Calder Cup two years ago and going to the league final last spring.

O’Brien and the other newcomers at camp will have the three-game exhibition series with Syracuse — the Mary’s Cup, which includes games in Clarenville Saturday night and Mile One 4 o’clock Sunday afternoon — to prove their worth to the IceCaps’ coaching staff.

It’s not the first time O’Brien has donned an IceCaps jersey. He played one game for St. John’s on May 1, 2012, a 4-3 win over the Springfield Falcons. That game came on the heels of his 50-goal, 101-point 2011-12 campaign with the Titan.

Since then, O’Brien has put on some muscle while at the same time has slimmed down some. His defensive game has improved (he was plus-19 last season following a minus-2 2011-12 campaign) and he’s worked to improve his skating, or more to the point, his quickness.

“I’ve been doing a lot of explosive workouts, trying to get the most of those first three strides,” he said. “I feel I’ve gotten quicker each and every year so hopefully that keeps developing.”

It’s the skating, IceCaps’ coach Keith McCambridge suggests, that needs to improve if O’Brien is to take his game to another level.

“He has a good set of hands, and good hands in tight,” McCambridge said. “But there are some deficiencies in his skating. He has to get a little quicker.”

The IceCaps make their first cuts Monday following the series of exhibitions against the Crunch. If O’Brien is unsuccessful in his attempt to crack the roster, there is a chance he could be sent to the ECHL’s Ontario, Calif. Reign.

“Develop as a player a bit more,” he said, “and maybe crack the roster next year. If that’s what they want me to do, I’m fine with that.”

 

rshort@thetelegram.com

Twitter @TelyRobinShort

Organizations: IceCaps, American Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League

Geographic location: Syracuse, Clarenville, Ontario, Calif.

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