Affectionately called ‘Obie,” the Growlers winger is this year’s MVP and the team’s top scorer (78 points with three regular season games remaining as of press time). The affable St. John’s raised hometown hockey hero opened by offering that this has been “one unique season.”
“We’ve been through a lot as a team with COVID and injuries and being in lockdown, but at the end of the day, I feel like it just brought us together as a team more. We’re like a family now and everyone plays for each other and wants each other to be successful,” he said. The team has the winning formula, he added. “It’s a really fun group of guys, a mix of young and old and I’m one of the old guys now. At 29 years old, I’m the old guy, but we have a really fun group and we’re really looking forward to playoffs,” he said.
Not that things haven’t been tough, he admits, particularly the call up of goalie Keith Petruzzelli. “This year has been so crazy with call ups (to the Marlies/AHL) and injuries and everything but the guys (goaltenders Chase Perry and Angus ‘Beef’ Redmond) have been able to kind of step in and join our group. We try to make it as easy as possible for them and just make them comfortable and they’ve been doing a great job so far.”
There’s a contingent of Newfoundlanders on the team that have played together for years. Does being from ‘home’ and playing at home make a difference, we ask. “Growing up, when I moved away at 17 or 18, I never really thought I was going to be able to get the chance to play at home again. Now with players like (James) Melindy and Marcus Power, it just feels perfect. And I obviously love playing here. During the game I look into the stands and I’ll always find a friend or family member there watching every single night, which is pretty cool, and it’s definitely a blessing to be able to play professional hockey at home.”
We ask about the come-from-away contingent of players, and O’Brien shared that “they’ve embraced this place.”
“Todd Skirving, whatever’s going on in the community, if it has to do with the Growlers, Todd is there. For him to do that, to take time out after being on a road trip for 10 days with eight games and he will come home the next day and Todd’s out doing something for the community, so he definitely deserves a shout out there, and a lot of guys follow his lead when it comes to that.”
The best part? It’s something Todd loves to do, he added. “He’s a special person and he’s been having a great season on the ice as well. So I’m really happy for Todd and he’s a big part of this group.”
Another big part of the team was Buddy the Puffin/Chris ‘Abbo” Abbott. “He was just always such a positive guy. Days where maybe you didn’t want to come to the rink, you’d see Abbo and hear him yelling and screaming something and you’d find a way to put a smile on your face. He was a massive part of hockey in Newfoundland, and you can see how many people he touched. He was an amazing person and he left a lot of great memories for everyone, and it’s very sad we lost him.”
As for the games ahead (three left before the playoffs when we spoke) the team just tries “to get better every game,” he said. “Every game means a lot as we push for a playoff spot. We got to start really dialing it in and just trying to get better every single day, whether it’s practice or a game. Do whatever it takes to win.”
This, he added, is “the best time of the year” for a player.
“It seemed like such a long year with everything that’s gone on, so we’re just looking forward to playoffs.”