Mike O'Connell

An undersized and under-rated defenseman, Chicago born, Massachusetts raised Mike O'Connell was a great skating standout at both ends of the ice

The son of former NFL quarterback Tommy O'Connell, the diminutive Mike loved both football and hockey. He was always one of the smallest players on the grid iron and the ice. He would find he could be a dominant player in hockey despite his size, and would give up football to chase hockey dreams.

A rare American standout in the early 1970s, O'Connell, on the advice of Boston Bruins general manager Harry Sinden, ventured north to Canada to advance his game against better competition. In 1973 he moved to Kingston to play major junior hockey. Blessed with great skating ability and a terrific understanding of transition offense, O'Connell immediately starred. By 1975 he was named the best defenseman in all of Ontario.

Still, the NHL shied away because of his size. It was not until the 43rd overall pick in the weak 1975 NHL amateur draft that the Chicago Blackhawks took a chance on the Chicago-born star.

For the longest time it looked like O'Connell was never going to be a NHL player. He played the first 4 seasons as a pro almost exclusively in the minor leagues.

It was not until 1979 that O'Connell finally cracked the Blackhawks lineup. He was part of a youth movement in Chicago that included the likes of Doug Wilson, Bob Murray and Keith Brown.

O'Connell would not truly hit his stride in the NHL until 1980 when an old friend Harry Sinden traded another promising young player in Al Secord to bring O'Connell home to Boston.

Although he played behind Ray Bourque and Brad Park, O'Connell, who often teammed with Mike Milbury, emerged as an offensive force. For the next five seasons he was a fixture on the power play, and grew into an all star performer. Not only did he play in the 1984 all star game, but he scored 18 goals and 60 points.

A good modern day comparable for O'Connell would be Brian Rafalski. Not only are they similar sized defensemen, but both were strong offensive contributors thanks to their skating, passing and offensive reads and pinches. O'Connell relied on his heavy shot perhaps more than Rafalski, but both were really crafty. Both were also solid defensive players, relying strong positioning and angling, rarely getting beat one on one. O'Connell was a noted shot blocker who was relied on to rush the puck out of the defensive zone.

After six solid seasons in Boston, the Bruins moved an aging O'Connell to Detroit at the trading deadline in 1986 in exchange for Reed Larson. O'Connell would play 4 more seasons with the Wings, though he would become primarily a defensive veteran than counted on for offensive.

After retiring in 1990 O'Connell almost immediately stepped into management. He started in the IHL with the San Diego Gulls before returning to Boston to serve with and eventually taking over for Harry Sinden.


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