O'Brien's going to Finland, but career far from finished

Darcy MacRae
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Cut loose by Ducks, St. John's native welcomes the latest turn on his hockey road

Doug O'Brien hopes a change of scenery has a positive impact on his hockey career. The 23-year-old St. John's native, who spent the past three seasons playing primarily playing in the American Hockey League, has agreed to a one-year contract with Lukko Rauma of the SM-Liiga, the top professional hockey league in Finland.

"I think it's a short-term move," O'Brien said of his decision to play overseas. "Some people say that (you can be forgotten by NHL teams when you go to Europe), but I don't look at it that way. Every NHL team has European scouts now, they all look for players over there. The NHL is still my goal."

Doug O'Brien

Doug O'Brien hopes a change of scenery has a positive impact on his hockey career. The 23-year-old St. John's native, who spent the past three seasons playing primarily playing in the American Hockey League, has agreed to a one-year contract with Lukko Rauma of the SM-Liiga, the top professional hockey league in Finland.

"I think it's a short-term move," O'Brien said of his decision to play overseas. "Some people say that (you can be forgotten by NHL teams when you go to Europe), but I don't look at it that way. Every NHL team has European scouts now, they all look for players over there. The NHL is still my goal."

O'Brien leaves for training camp Aug. 1. with the regular season starting in early September. That's a full month ahead of what he'd grown accustomed to in the North American pro ranks, but O'Brien isn't complaining.

"I'm told they have some pretty intense training the month before the season starts. It'll take getting used to, but I take pretty good care of myself, so I'm still looking forward to it," said the six-foot-one, 200-pound defenceman, who appeared in five National Hockey League games with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2005-06.

O'Brien doesn't know what role Lukko has in mind for him, but traditionally, European teams only bring in imports they expect can make significant contributions. He's not even sure who his teammates will be, but it's clear he has done some research on the Finnish league.

"I would say it's around the AHL level," O'Brien said. "It's a quick game, but not as physical as the North American game. The ice surface is the same size as the NHL rinks, so that's one less thing to get used to.The schedule is only 50 games, so I'm excited by that too. Everyone tells me Europe is beautiful, so I'm looking forward to seeing that part of the world."

O'Brien doesn't expect to have much trouble fitting in with his new teammates or surroundings and is looking forward to living in the city of Rauma, a community of close to 40,000 people on the west coast of Finland.

"I don't know if I'll be picking up any Finnish, but I'm told everyone over there speaks English," said O'Brien. "There are going to be four North Americans on the team, including me, so I don't think language will be a problem."

The deal that is sending O'Brien to Finland came about after a turbulent 2006-07 campaign.

He began last season with the Lightning's AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons, before being traded to the Anaheim Ducks in February. The Ducks assigned O'Brien to their AHL club in Portland, Me., where he finished the season. However, the Ducks didn't offer him a qualifying contract this summer, making him an unrestricted free agent.

O'Brien had a good idea he didn't have a future with Anaheim and actually signed to play in Finland before he became an unrestricted free agent.

"I wasn't pursuing it at all. It's just how it worked out," said O'Brien. "Things didn't work out (with the Ducks) and then this (the Finland deal) came along, so I decided I'd give it a shot."

As excited as O'Brien is about his fresh start, he admits playing in Finland is not how he envisioned his hockey career unfolding. He was named the QMJHL's top defenceman in 2003-04 and just two seasons later suited up with the Lightning, who had drafted O'Brien in the sixth round of the 2003 entry draft.

Despite giving O'Brien that brief audition, the Lightning decided he wasn't in their plans last year and shipped him to the Ducks, a move he partially embraced.

"Yes, I was surprised, but at the same time I was happy because I didn't think Tampa was the right place for me," said O'Brien. "Then I found out Anaheim wasn't a good spot for me either. You have to take it all in stride."

Even if O'Brien would rather be competing for an NHL job this fall instead of heading to Europe, he still feels has a lot to be happy about. He's going to a team that aggressively pursued his services and likely has big plans him.

"I'm not down about anything," O'Brien said. "It's been a bit of a bumpy road, but I've been enjoying it."

dmacrae@thetelegram.com

Organizations: National Hockey League, American Hockey League, North American SM-Liiga Tampa Bay Lightning

Geographic location: Finland, St. John's, Europe Anaheim Rauma Portland, Me. Tampa

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