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Dartmouth hockey building a ‘lumberjack’ in O’Connor

  • Dartmouth College sophomore Drew O'Connor shoots against Cornell on Dec. 7, 2019. O'Connor has 10 goals and nine assists in 16 games for the Big Green this season.

  • Drew O'Connor

  • Dartmouth College hockey players Drew O'Connor, left, and Carl Hesler listen to the national anthem before a Nov. 30, 2019, game against visiting Cornell. O'Connor leads the Big Green in scoring this season with 10 goals and nine assists. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. » Buy this Image »

  • Dartmouth College's Drew O'Connor listens to a coach speak during a Jan. 9, 2019, practice at Thompson Arena. O'Connor has gone from an unheralded prospect to the Big Green's best player. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. » Buy this Image »

  • Dartmouth College hockey players Drew O'Connor, left, and Carl Hesler listen to the national anthem before a Nov. 30, 2019, game against visiting Cornell.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/16/2020 9:52:43 PM
Modified: 1/16/2020 9:51:50 PM

HANOVER — The Dartmouth College men’s hockey team has long succeeded at locating overlooked, undersized and unheralded prospects on the recruiting trail. Drew O’Connor at one time met all three criteria, but that was before the sophomore transformed into the Big Green’s leading scorer and a top-five points producer among ECAC players.

Reeled in by Dartmouth as a recent high school graduate at 5-foot-9, O’Connor was 6 inches taller and still growing when he arrived on campus two years later. Blessed with powerful legs and hindquarters, the Chatham, N.J., native seems to fill out more by the day and was admiringly described as a “lumberjack” by a team support staff member this week.

Such a description would make O’Connor chuckle, being that he exited middle school at 5 feet and roughly 100 pounds. He’s now approaching 6-4 and 200 pounds and has a team-high 10 goals and nine assists in 16 games. The Big Green, 8-5-3 overall and 5-3-1 in ECAC play, hosts No. 7 Clarkson on Friday and St. Lawrence on Saturday at Thompson Arena.

“He’s kind of stepped into college hockey and taken it by storm,” said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet. “He’s a better college hockey player statistically than he was as a junior player. He brings people out of their seats, and he’s getting better.”

Give much of the credit to Big Green assistant John Rose, who found O’Connor toiling in junior hockey without a single collegiate offer. The youngster’s tentative plan was to attend Hobart (N.Y.) College and perhaps walk on to the Division III program there. Or maybe just play for the school’s club team.

O’Connor had long dreamed of college hockey, and his parents allowed him a year after graduation from the Delbarton School to chase that goal. He caught Rose’s eye at a summer showcase before his second U18 junior campaign and later skated a season with the Boston Jr. Bruins of the National Collegiate Development Conference.

“I worked out a ton and skated all the time,” O’Connor said of his last three summers. “I was always very skinny, and I had to prove I could play at a higher level.”

Despite being unsure at the outset how much he’d play, O’Connor led Dartmouth with 17 goals as a freshman wing. Two weeks ago, he switched to center, a position he hadn’t played since youth hockey, to help his shorthanded team. He’s put up nine points during the six games since and bolstered the Big Green’s defense with his size and strength low in the zone.

“Center is totally different geography on the ice, but he jumped in with no problem,” Gaudet said. “He’s got an incredibly long reach, and he surprises people by poke-checking the puck or stealing a pass.”

Offensively, O’Connor can create chances off the rush by driving out of the corner or, in what’s become a patented move, backchecking with early intensity and stripping a rival of the puck from behind before the opponent can pass out of his end. NHL scouts have flocked to Dartmouth games this season, many of them evaluating No. 18.

“I’m definitely a late bloomer, and I wasn’t as coordinated as some other guys for a few years,” said O’Connor, who’s likely to eventually field offers to turn pro as a free agent. “I think it’s good for me to keep developing here, and graduating with an Ivy League degree is really important to me and my family.”

That’s good news for Dartmouth, which is seventh in the 12-team ECAC, but only four points out of third. O’Connor’s 27 goals since the start of last season are second-best in the conference behind only Clarkson’s Haralds Egle, who has 29.

“A big part of our deal here is development, and Drew’s a driven kid,” Gaudet said. “There are plenty of nights where he’s the best player on the ice.”

Notes: Clarkson (15-4-2, 9-2) leads the ECAC by a point over Cornell and three over Quinnipiac. … St. Lawrence (3-17-3, 1-10) is struggling yet again, this time under first-year coach Brent Brekke, whose daughter, Bailee, is a senior defender for the Dartmouth women’s hockey team. … The Big Green is 31-73-3 all-time against Clarkson. … Saturday’s game will feature the return of former Dartmouth stars Lee Stempniak, Tanner Glass and Ben Lovejoy for a night celebrating the recent conclusions of their NHL careers. … With three assists last weekend, Dartmouth freshman defenseman Tanner Palocsik moved to fifth among NCAA Division I rookies with 13. His 0.81 assists per game are the most by any freshman in the nation. He trails only Jake Willets of Ferris State for assists (15) by a first-year defender despite playing in seven fewer games.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.




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