Sacred Heart senior Pierre-Luc O’Brien
is going to leave Atlantic Hockey as the league’s
all-time leading point scorer. What he really wants is the
playoff championship and the NCAA Tournament bid that goes
O’Brien captured our attention as a
freshman, garnering rookie of the year honors with a 14-goal,
27-point season. His production steadily improved, and so
did Sacred Heart’s fortunes … at least during
the regular season.
The Pioneers were ousted in the first round
of playoffs in 2005 and 2006. Sacred Heart cleared that
hurdle last Saturday with a 4-0 win over American International
and advanced to the playoff semifinals, where the No. 1
seed will face Air Force Friday in Rochester, N.Y.
O’Brien has already graduated from Sacred
Heart and is in the process of studying for his Masters
in Business Administration. The corporate world can wait,
though, as the Quebec native is hopeful of being offered
a professional contract once his collegiate playing days
are over. What his next team gets is a forward who has produced
67 goals, 90 assists and 157 points during his college career.
As one of the players to keep an eye on this
weekend, we spoke with O’Brien about his career, the
upcoming playoffs and what kind of movies and desserts he
Inside College Hockey: Your team
managed to secure the top playoff seed, but I am sure there
was some disappointment with not winning the regular season
Pierre-Luc O’Brien: (Rochester Institute
of Technology) had a great season. Coming out from Division
III, they had something to prove and they did prove it.
They played well throughout the season and were consistent.
As far as we are concerned, obviously, we are disappointed
not to get the league championship but all we cared about
was having the first seed in the post-season.
INCH: Sacred Heart had come up
short the past two years in the first round of the playoffs
— how did you cope with that? And how did it feel
to finally escape the quarterfinals with the win over American
O’Brien: It felt really good to get
through that first game. Last year we dominated Connecticut
and we did everything we could in order for us to win and
we didn’t. It was really, really disappointing. This
year we came in with a winning attitude. We said, "This
is not going to happen again." We came in as the top
dog, we have to do it and we did it. We have two more games
to go and we are looking to go into the game with the same
No. 1 Sacred
Record: 21-10-4 (18-7-4 AHA)
Pioneer note: Sacred
Heart has won six of its last seven games. The
Pioneers won in their last semifinal appearance (vs.
Mercyhurst in 2004) but lost to Quinnipiac in the
2002 MAAC semifinals.
How SHU wins: The Pioneers
did a great job last Saturday in holding American
International to just 16 shots on goal in the quarterfinals.
They need to do the same here, especially against
Eric Ehn and the Falcons. And it's asking a lot, but
Sacred Heart has won its last 14 games when scoring
four or more goals.
2 Army Record: 16-11-5 (16-8-5
Black Knight note: Army
was 0-8 in quarterfinal playoff games since 1962 before
beating Bentley last Saturday.
How Army wins: They'll
needs to take space away from the speedy forwards
they'll face in playing UConn and, if they win, Air
Force or Sacred Heart. Special teams will also be
a key — the Black Knights have scored two power
play goals in each of the last four games, and the
penalty kill has been successful in 24 of its last
No. 3 Connecticut Record: 16-17-2 (16-11-2
Husky note: Connecticut
is 7-1-1 since Feb. 2. The Huskies lost the last two
times they advanced to the semifinals games —
in 2002 against Mercyhurst and last season vs. Holy
How UConn wins: Beau
Erickson was dinged for four goals in the
quarterfinal win over Mercyhurst but, with six wins
since the start of February, he still qualifies as
the hot hand. The Huskies are most dangerous when
they get balanced scoring from more than one line.
4 Air Force Record: 17-15-5 (14-10-5
Falcon note: Air Force
won its last neutral-site meeting with Sacred Heart
at the 2004 Rensselaer Holiday Tournament. The semifinals
haven't been kind to Air Force, which lost to each
of its four trips to the College Hockey America semis
to four different teams — Niagara (2000), Alabama-Huntsville
(2001), Wayne State (2002), and Bemidji State (2005).
How AFA wins: The Falcons
led the league in shots on goal, and those shots must
be plentiful , especially against stingy Sacred Heart
netminder Jason Smith. Air Force’s power play,
which has produced goals in each of the last five
games, must also produce.
INCH: How did you feel about your
senior season? Did you play to the level of your expectations?
O’Brien: For myself yeah, I will always
give my 100 percent every game, that’s for sure, but
it gets tough. At times a season has ups and downs. I can’t
say I am disappointed. Coming in with a ‘C’
(captain’s title) on my jersey had a little different
responsibility. Guys were looking up to the senior class
and captains for assistance. It was a great season. To put
the cherry on the sundae would be unbelievable.
INCH: As long as we are talking
desserts, what belongs on your sundae?
O’Brien: Caramel. I am from Quebec,
so it has to be Quebon (milk). We need nuts, the whole nine
INCH: You were a marked man most
of this season, to the point where your numbers were kept
a shade below last season.
O’Brien: Numbers are numbers. As an
individual, you always want to get your numbers up. I had
a great season last year — I didn’t expect to
get 50 points last year. My really big goal was to bring
all the guys together and have a good atmosphere in the
locker room. Points will come. They will come if I play
hard. Forty-five points (this year) compared to 50 ... I
don’t think it’s any different. It doesn’t
really affect me as much as people think it would.
INCH: One of your semifinal opponents,
Eric Ehn of Air Force, leads the nation in scoring. Do you
O’Brien: Obviously. The guy is a really
good player. It’s not any day or any guy that can
put up the kind of points that he did this year. He had
a really good season and I am glad for him.
INCH: Was there pressure of having
to live up to expectations from teammates or fans?
O’Brien: There’s always a little
pressure but that is something you can put aside and live
with obviously. This is college hockey. Just imagine those
guys in The Show (the NHL) — it’s unbelievable
what they live with every day. You think about that and
you say, "I am living the life." I am going to
school and playing college hockey.
Fans will ask if you don’t have points
for three or four games, "What’s going on?"
but a lot of people don’t know what’s happening
in the room or if guys are keying on you.
INCH: You will finish among the
scoring leaders, if not at the top, in the Atlantic Hockey
record book. How does that make you feel?
O’Brien: That’s awesome. I never
expected that when I signed with Sacred Heart. The first
year I had a good year, nothing unbelievable. I got rookie
of the year. That gave me a lot of confidence and I came
back with a good attitude. I felt I could be a good player
in the league and I did it.
INCH: You, Bear Trapp and Alex
Parent are battling for the team scoring lead. Are you guys
having fun with that?
O’Brien: No, there’s nobody who
talks about points in the room. That is different from two
years ago when a couple guys talked. I have never heard
Trapp or Parent or anybody in the room saying, “I
am coming up on you,’’ or “I will pass
you.’’ We work with each other. It’s just,
“I am going to make you a better player and you are
going to make me a better player.’’ We don’t
ever joke about it. All we want to do is beat the other
INCH: There’s a late breakaway
with you and Bear, or you and Alex, on an open net? Do you
pass him the puck?
O’Brien: It depends — how many
goals do I have in the game? (laughs) If I have two goals,
then I am going for the hat trick.
INCH: How have you improved as
a player since your freshman season?
O’Brien: I think I improved dramatically.
I improved a lot as a player. Everybody improves and changes
throughout the four year they are here. I improved a lot
but I changed a lot too. I don’t think I am done improving,
and that’s the beauty of it, too. Some guys peak when
they are young. I am a late bloomer.
When I came in I was a winger, and coach put
me at center about four or five games in. I was running
around and buzzing around our own zone. I knew my role,
but I didn’t know it well. I worked on it and I am
effective on both ends of the ice now.
INCH: What’s your offensive
O’Brien: Go with the flow ... that is
what I have always thought about. You see it and do it.
You don’t keep the puck more than three seconds —
I got that from a pro player. You watch the pros and they
don’t try to skate through everybody and score.
INCH: Are you a big-game player?
O’Brien: That is a hard question, dude.
Every single player would want to be a big-game player.
I know when there is a big game ahead I don’t prepare
any differently. ... I think now we will see if I am a big-game
player. We have two big games ahead. Even if I am marked,
just go through it and no excuses. I don’t feel like
I choke at all.
INCH: Is the playoff season your
favorite time of the year?
O’Brien: Big time. I am disappointed
that it’s not best of three or best of five —
they are doing that for next year. I don’t think one
game proves who the best team is. You hit a hot goalie,
you hit a bounce, you hit a skate and, boom, you’re
(Against UConn last year) we had 50-something
shots and we hit a wall there. We did everything we planned
on doing but it just didn’t go in. It is the best
time of the year, and our team is so pumped right now.
During a year you have ups and downs, you
go to the rink sometimes and say, “Oh, I have so much
homework and now I have practice.’’ This last
month we are showing up and making the plays. It’s
been a great atmosphere.
INCH: It’s the morning of
a playoff game. How do you feel?
O’Brien: I feel more excited than ever,
especially this year because I am a senior. I feel really
excited. I feel confident, and a bit desperate. I know it’s
my last chance, and I am going to grasp it.
INCH: Do you get used to traveling?
O’Brien: Here it’s not too bad.
When I played in (British Columbia), we had those 15-hour
drives and four games in four days. I got used to it in
juniors. We didn’t have much traveling here besides
going once in a while to Michigan and Air Force.
INCH: What is the secret to a
good bus trip?
O’Brien: The rookies have to bring good
movies, because if you don’t it’s going to be
brutal. You have to bring a big blanket with a big pillow.
The seniors and captains are in the back so they can lay
down. The first lunch has to be good. With the movies, “Slap
Shot” is always a killer. With our team, “Major
League” is a huge movie and “Jackass”
was awesome, too.
INCH: Do you think Sacred Heart
has gained some attention in the college hockey world?
O’Brien: I really believe so. The first
year here we lost over at Holy Cross in the finals, but
over the last two years, I think we had two really good
seasons. We beat some non-conference teams — we beat
Brown and Cornell. Just the name Bear Trapp brings attention.
It helps coach go out and recruit people. We are a growing
program. We need good players to come in. We still need
a rink on campus. It’s nice to be recognized.
INCH: What’s it like to
not have a home rink on campus?
O’Brien: I don’t want to comment
on that. We have a good deal where we are. We’ve had
this the four years I’ve been here. You look around
(at other schools) and they have their rink on campus. Whatever.
It would be really nice but it didn’t happen. I don’t
know when it would happen or where it would go.
INCH: It appears you are
about to embark on a pro career. What does your future hold?
O’Brien: To be honest, I have
no idea. First of all, I am focusing on what’s coming
this weekend. Besides that, I haven’t had any news.
I haven’t talked to anybody. I don’t really
know. If I have a chance at something. I hope I will get
If you have a chance you need to jump on it.
A lot of people would kill to have this opportunity. This
year, I’ve been thinking about it a bit. Growing up
as a French-Canadian person, that’s the sport you
want to make a living out of. That’s the best thing
that could ever happen to me.
Ken McMillan can be reached at email@example.com