Friday, January 01, 2010

Tuesday Championship: The Green Machine

December 22, 2009
Concord, MA


We join this game in progress, early in the third period. The Penguins—skating left to right across your AMHL audio—are clinging to a 2–1 lead over the Leafs when the Penguins score a surprise goal off a face-off.

“Who got that one?” this reporter (who was glancing at his notes instead of watching the action) asks referee Peter Bagley.

“The green kid,” Bags replies.

Ryan O’Connor is a scoring machine. The fleet-footed twenty-seven-year-old lad is proficient with the puck but is perhaps better known for his garish green hockey garb.

Bagley will later provide, via email, details. “Ryan O’Connor or “The Green Machine” as the officials refer to him, is one of the league’s best players. Ryan is always a gentleman taking face-offs, skates up and down the ice each and every shift and wears the most hideous combination of colors in the league. I have asked him to buy new gear and in 2009 he did buy some new gloves, BLACK to replace the green and yellow ones from 1994.”

O’Connor, who will say that Bagley gives him guff at every face-off, lists his hometown as Westwood, MA. He recalls his early introduction to hockey, well before he acquired his now famous hockey digs. “I was first on skates at three years old. My father played in high school and college, so he got me on skates when I was young.”

Ryan’s youth hockey coaches recognized the talent that would two decades later become obvious to AMHL fans. O’Connor says, “When I was real young I played defense, but I was one of the smaller and quicker players.”

So O’Connor converted to forward.

Fast forward a dozen or so years later—to the late-90s—when Ryan played for the Westwood (MA) Wolverines. “Oakey,” as his teammates called him, looked good in green but not good enough to earn the attention of college scouts. So O’Connor didn’t pursue a college hockey career.

“Didn’t even consider it,” Ryan says. “I wasn’t the best player in high school.”

He played pickup hockey at Fairfield University (CT) but then hockey’s allure diminished. The years slipped away as a career in high tech ranked higher than hockey. In 2002, he just stopped playing— until six years later O’Connor realized what he was missing.

He wanted back in the game.

Ryan contacted AMHL legend Dana Salvo, who worked with O’Connor’s sister, and then joined the AMHL in the summer of 2008.

Now, eighteen months (and five AMHL seasons later), Oakey has accrued seventy-three goals, including the one he has just scored against the Leafs and which he will recount for AMHL fans (and the snoozing scribe)

“(My) initial strategy was to bring the puck back to my right defenseman.” But when Leaf Mike “MMMBop” Hansen’s composite stick broke on impact with the ice and O’Connor’s stick, Ryan instead collected the loose puck and then danced around the stunned Hansen. And quicker than you can say “there goes $70 down the drain,” O’Connor then flicked the puck past Mike Edwards.

But less than two minutes later, the Penguins are caught flat-footed when Leaf forward Brendan Doyle malingers to the right of goalie Claude Corbeil. Doyle deposits a rebound past the netminder.

3–2 Penguins.

With less than ten minutes remaining, Leaf forward Rob Mirak crashes the net. He says yes to a backhand shot, but Claude says non. A follow-up attempt—non encore!

Corbeil's big-time saves are all the Penguins need, and O’Connor’s third period goal proves to be the game-winner.

After the game, O’Connor stuffs his old Kelly greens in his hockey bag.

Don’t expect the “Green Machine” to trade them in. O’Connor says, “I figure if I changed (them) nobody would recognize me anymore.”
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