Princeton may have ended Yale’s ten-game unbeaten streak, but center Brian O’Neill ’12 is still hot on the ice. After joining the Bulldogs this year, the Timothy Dwight College freshman has already played in 26 games and scored nine goals on the season. As Yale maintains its position on top the ECAC statndings, O’Neill took a break to share about his hockey roots and his time adjusting to playing hockey at Yale.
Q How were you introduced to hockey?
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A When I was eight. My dad never really played hockey, but we used to play street hockey and stuff. Me and my twin brother just messed around a lot.
Q Did having a twin help?
A I’m more determined to play just because we went at it pretty hard until 16 or 17. It definitely helped motivate me when I playing against him on or off the ice. We got to go the state championship in high school as sophomores together. We were on the same line together for part of the season, which was one of the most rewarding experiences of my hockey career.
Q How has the transition to playing in the ECAC been?
A Last year I played in the U.S. Hockey League, a junior league. It’s a step down from college but not too far off. It has been a jump, but you’re also playing with better players now. The practice schedule has been the same, but there were less games, so it’s more intense now. The kids are also just bigger because they’re older. It’s been a jump, and it took a little time getting used to.
Q Did you feel you have something extra to prove getting the minutes you do as a freshman?
A At the beginning, obviously. I didn’t know what to expect, I felt like I had to prove myself on a nightly basis. There’s a lot of pressure to keep proving yourself, especially being a freshman with so many good players on the team who can jump in for you the next night if you have a bad game.
Q How do you like coach Keith Allain’s hockey philosophy and how has it affected your game?
A We have a lot of small guys so we’re forced to play a fast aggressive style, which I like and suits my game. It’s not like we’re not physical, but it helps the style of play. Any team that can skate would play this kind of style, and we just have a great skating team. It helps personally because, as I’m not the biggest guy on the ice, I’m more comfortable playing this style. Coach lets us just go and play aggressive offensively and at the same time defensively. I wouldn’t necessarily fit on a Cornell team that plays a slower, more defensive style.
Q What did you think about the Dartmouth brawl?
A That was definitely a cheap shot, no getting around that. There was no need for that. It was [Sean] Backman [’10], who is arguably our best player. I think everyone was pissed off, and the kid only got suspended for one game, which I thought was ridiculous. I think we handled it pretty well after the incident. There were a couple scrums but none of us got suspended. It could have been a lot worse.
Q Are you looking forward to potentially competing for a national championship?
A I thought probably we would have a chance of going there one of these years here, but so many things have to go right. It’s kind of surreal. Really, anything’s possible. Everyone’s pretty psyched but there’s a lot of work to be done. Just to be in the tournament would be a huge deal. The chance that we have to go far is just amazing. At a school like Yale people don’t expect us to go far. Having a chance once in my life would be a huge deal.
Q What do you think about playing the first two games of the NCAA tournament in Bridgeport?
A It’s essentially a home game for us, which is a big deal. Most of the teams in the division will probably have to fly. It sets up perfectly for us.
Q What do you do or study outside of hockey?
A I’ll probably be a political science major. I’m pretty interested in that and government, along those lines. I’ll take a few economics courses too. As for extracurriculars, I haven’t gotten a chance to get too involved, but in high school I worked in homeless shelters and played golf.