By Zack Fisch | AHL On The Beat
Liam O’Brien is fearless.
Four years ago, the scrappy winger came seemingly out of nowhere, hitting anything that moved and dropping the gloves with anyone that would accept the invitation during the Washington Capitals training camp. He made such an impression that O’Brien not only earned a contract, but a spot on Washington’s opening night roster.
After a cup of coffee with the big club, the Nova Scotia native was loaned to Hershey, and has become a fan-favorite in Chocolate Town ever since.
When O’Brien was called up by the Capitals earlier this year, he showed his fearlessness once more, dropping the mitts with noted tough guy Ryan Reaves of the Pittsburgh Penguins. At the NHL and AHL level, O’Brien has had his fair share of scraps, but the former product of the QMJHL has become much more than just an enforcer.
As the game of hockey continues to grow and transform, O’Brien has changed his game to make himself a multi-dimensional player. His transformation came front and center last season when he set career-highs in every offensive category, notching 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists) to go along with his 117 penalty minutes.
“If you were to watch me my first year, the only thing going through my mind was, ‘Who am I going to run through the boards tonight?’ or something along those lines,” O’Brien said. “Growing up I was always a goal scorer, but I think I lost sight of that getting into pro hockey because I felt I needed to play a third and fourth line role and bring that energy. I think my mindset is there now, and I know my skill set is there thanks to extra work and developing my game with the coaching staff.”
O’Brien is often one of the last players off the ice during practices, spending countless hours honing his craft and taking his game to the next level. Much of that credit goes to assistant coach Ryan Murphy and the rest of Hershey’s coaching staff who work on skill development with players before and after practice.
“I’ve worked on my game a lot over the past few years, and Murph has been a big help,” said O’Brien. “My offensive game has grown because of this, and the coaches have given me the opportunity to play on the power play with some really good players, and that’s helped. My confidence is there, I feel strong with the puck, and I feel my overall game has been pretty good and I want to keep it that way.”
While O’Brien has added the offensive side to his game, he’s not forgetting his roots. The forward, who had a famous feud with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton forward Tom Sestito during the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs, still believes fighting has a role in the games and will drop the gloves if needed.
“Production for me isn’t really everything,” said O’Brien. “I can fight for sure, but no matter what, every night I have to bring that energy. I think when I’m playing well, I’m playing well defensively, making smart plays and playing fast. I’m in the other team’s face, and I think that’s when I have success, so that’s how I want to play.”
The forward is once again off to a fast start on the score sheet, and O’Brien hopes to continue his success over the course of this season. After all, central Pennsylvania now holds a special place in O’Brien’s heart.
“Chocolate Town has become my home away from home. It’s a great town with fantastic people and the fans are second to none. I’ve played with a lot of really good players, and we have another good team again here this year. This is a great place to be.”