O'Brien's mixed blessing

Brendan McCarthy
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St. John's native cut by IceCaps, but signed to California-based ECHL affiliate

If Zach O’Brien tells you he doesn’t know just quite how to feel about the latest turn in his quest for a pro hockey career, you can believe him.
You might say he’s between two coasts, figuratively and literally.

St. John's native Zach O'Brien's pro hockey career won't be starting with the IceCaps, but instead with the Ontario, California Reign of the ECHL.

The 21-year-old centre from St. John’s was cut by the hometown IceCaps Monday, but he showed enough in his training-camp tryout with the American Hockey League team to earn a contract that will see him play with the IceCaps’ ECHL affiliate, the California-based Ontario Reign,

“Yeah, it’s a bit of both, I guess,” said O’Brien when asked the measures of disappointment and excitement he felt Monday of learning of the IceCaps’ plans for him.

“Of course, I would have like to play here, at home. At the same time, I’m very excited to get the chance to go somewhere and play a lot and keep improving my game.

“It’s a great opportunity. I know it.”

O’Brien, who totalled 97 goals and 193 points over the last two seasons with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the QMJHL, was one of two players assigned to the Reign by St. John’s on Monday. Winger Yasim Cisse, who had already been signed to an AHL contract, will also be heading to Ontario, a city in San Bernadino County west of Los Angeles.

O’Brien appeared in two pre-season games with the IceCaps and while the didn’t register any points, impressed enough to have the team want him to remain in the organization.

“They told me I improved a lot since the last time they saw me,” said O’Brien, who signed an amateur tryout contract with the IceCaps late in the 2011-12 season and appeared in one AHL game. at the time.

 “That was good to hear.

“They know I have a skill set and hockey sense, but I know I have things I need to work on if I want to play at this level (the AHL) and that what I intend to do (with the Reign).”

He says if there is one thing at the top of his to-do list it’s to improve his skating.

“It’s improving, but I’m not the biggest guy in the world, so I know I have to get even better, to be even faster than most players,’ said the five-foot-nine, 180-pounder.

The training camp for the Reign, who are coached by former AHLer Jason Christie, begins on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the IceCaps released seven other tryout players Monday, including goaltender Adam Brown, defenceman Zach Bell, and forwards Phillipe-Michael Devos, Patrick Kennedy, Maxime Legault, Blair MacAulay and Mike Ullrich. Most already have deals in place to play somewhere in the ECHL, although the IceCaps have expressed interest in keeping both Bell and Legault, who has three years of AHL experience, within the organization.

Bell, who was born in St. John’s and raised in Ontario, can return to the OHL’s North Bay Battalion for his overage junior year.

“He’ll have to make a decision in his next step, but we’d like to keep him in the umbrella,” said IceCaps’ head coach Keith McCambridge about Bell. “Obviously his scholarship, his school package (available to him as a major junior player) becomes part of his decision as well.”



Organizations: IceCaps, American Hockey League, Ontario Reign

Geographic location: St. John's, Ontario, San Bernadino

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