Growing up in Gloucester, ON, Canada, a suburb of Ottawa, Ryan O’Connell fell in love with the game of hockey at an early age. At age four he laced up the skates for the first time, and hasn’t looked back since.
“Both my parents grew up in a hockey environment where my dad played competitive hockey throughout his younger years and my mother lived in hockey arenas as her three brothers also played. I think it was her youngest brother (Brian Downey) who inspired me to play hockey and aim towards college. He played at the University of Maine from 1989-1992, and eventually was drafted by the Ottawa Senators and played for their farm team.”
Like most Canadian’s, hockey was not only in Ryan’s blood, but it also was a passion of his from an early age. He signed up with the local minor hockey team, the Leitrim Hawks, and quickly realized he wanted nothing more then to be on the ice. From there he started moving up the ranks of competitive hockey, playing for the Gloucester Blackhawks, the Gloucester Rangers AA and then finally the Ottawa Jr. 67’s AAA.
After his Major Bantam year, Ryan was drafted by the Nepean Raiders Jr. A of the CCHL, 2nd overall. He then played his Minor Midget year for the Ottawa Jr. 67’s and was picked in the 8th round of the OHL draft by the Mississauga Steelheads. A pure skating, two-way defenseman who could jump into the rush and make plays with the puck was highly coveted throughout Ontario.
“Not only did I have excellent coaches throughout my minor hockey years, but I also had many people supporting me along the way – my family and my large support group. The training I received, the friendships that I made and the travel that we did as a family will always be remembered from my youth hockey experience.”
Ryan now had a choice to make: begin to play in the CCHL and play towards an NCAA scholarship, or try out in the OHL and possibly forgo all chances of playing college hockey like his Uncle once had; but what Ryan did next would surprise most. He made the bold choice to turn down junior hockey and attend St. Andrew’s College in Aurora, ON and play hockey for their prep team.
“After participating in the OHL Gold Cup in Kitchener, Waterloo (April 2015, with the Ottawa Junior 67’s), I was contacted by Dave Manning, Coach of the St. Andrew’s College “Saints”. Coach Manning had seen me play and thought I would be a good fit on his hockey team. I had a tough decision to make within a short period of time as the Nepean Raiders (CCHL) had also offered me a spot on their team; but academically, I knew I would be getting a top notch education at St. Andrew’s College (SAC) as it is one of the leading private schools in Canada. Everything happened so fast. My family and I visited the school in June, 2015, loved what we saw and the people we met, and I started Grade Eleven a couple of months later (September 2015). I was fortunate to have received a two-year scholarship.”
Now that the decision was made, Ryan finally had a chance to focus on hockey again and excelled not only on the ice but also in the classroom.
“I am pursuing an Engineering Degree so with my heavy course load it was very challenging at times but SAC has taught me how to organize and manage my time efficiently. I did well maintaining my eighty average and the Ontario Scholars award and I feel prepared for University. Dave Manning, along with his assistants and trainers, has definitely helped me to become a better player and have brought me to the next level.”
A well rounded individual, Ryan began to garner heavy interest from multiple NCAA D1 hockey programs, including his dream school, Boston University. St. Andrews made a few trips to the Boston region for the Belmont Hill pre-season jamboree and then again around Christmas time for the St. Sebastian’s Holiday Tournament. Ryan, as well as several of his teammates, saw hordes of college interest after the team showed they were the real deal.
“I had been talking with Coach Young and Coach O’Connell from Boston University since the beginning of the season and I was pretty confident that something was coming but I was never 100% sure. I knew they wanted me to visit Boston to meet the coaches at some point, but when they told me about their camp I felt that it was a perfect opportunity to not only play some hockey in front of them, but to also visit the school and get to know what it is like there. I must admit that my family and I were pleasantly surprised and ecstatic when we met with Coach Quinn and I was presented with an offer.”
After the news broke about his commitment to BU, we sat down with Ryan to learn a little more about his decision:
“Not only does BU have a fantastic hockey team, coaching staff, and facility, they also have a strong academic presence. I was watching this year’s NHL draft and when they kept calling BU players in the first round and beyond – it confirmed what an awesome hockey program they offer. I was so hopeful that they would offer me a commitment. I was offered other commitments from NCAA schools and chances to play with other Canadian teams, but I told myself that I would wait until this summer to decide. I am so happy to be part of this great organization and I am over the moon on how things turned out for me!”
After an exciting summer, Ryan decided to head back to St. Andrew’s for his final year of high school and graduate with his friends and teammates.
What is important about Ryan’s story is less about on ice performance and more about his choice to achieve academic excellence first. Being a well-rounded person always takes precedence over success in hockey, and ultimately yields opportunities like Ryan has been offered. What seems to be overlooked at times, there are multiple avenues one can take to achieve their goals and in Ryan’s case, he took the road less traveled…and it made all the difference.
The 3.75 star prospect is expected to arrive at Boston University in the fall of 2018 and will be added to the 2018 Recruiting Class Ranking in October when we announce our updated rankings.
Photo Credit: Dan Hickling/Hickling Images