From The Stands To The Monarchs Bench
A Londonderry, New Hampshire native, forward Ian O’Connor was 12 years old when Manchester was awarded with an AHL franchise that would become the Manchester Monarchs. O’Connor grew up idolizing the Monarchs and the game of hockey. As a teenager, O’Connor made the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs at 16-years of age and would play four seasons with them before accepting a scholarship to play in the top collegiate hockey conference in the country, the Hockey East Association, as a member of the Providence College Friars.
O’Connor has come full circle with his passion and now plays professional hockey in his home state no far from where it all began.
“When I got the news that I had a potential call-up and that it was to Manchester it was obviously something extra special for me,” said O’Connor. “It’s nice to be able to have my family and friends come to all the home games. Luckily, being in Manchester, most of the away games are pretty close as well so they get to see just about every game.”
As a teenager, O’Connor attended countless Monarchs games watching all the great former Monarchs players but he kept a close eye on another New Hampshire native.
“When I was young, Jeff Giuliano being a Nashua guy and watching him at Boston College,” said O’Connor about who he remembers watching at Monarchs games. “My father played at Boston College so I was always a fan and to see him as a Monarchs player and in L.A with the Kings as well. I skated with him at Pro AM leagues in the summer. He was a guy I always liked to watch on the ice.”
O’Connor has now appeared in five games for the Monarchs and made his debut in St. John’s against the IceCaps on March 1. The following weekend, O’Connor scored his first American Hockey League goal in his first game at the Verizon Wireless Arena in front of his hometown fans.
“It was pretty cool, was kind of a simple play Belzy (Kris Belan) and Stewy (Anthony Stewart) got in hard on the fore-check and made a nice play to get the puck in front of the net,” recalled O’Connor. “I just tried to stay high and when the puck came out I tried to put it back on net. To score in front of that many family and friends, and it being my first time in the building (professionally) was incredible. I skated here in high school and obviously have gone to a ton of Monarchs games, so to get that kind of opportunity and capitalize it was pretty special.”
Despite feeling at home off the ice, O’Connor is still adjusting to life as an AHL player but he has stayed true to his defensively responsible game.
“I’m playing center right now, trying to be a strong defensive forward,” stated O’Connor. “I’m trying to use my speed a little bit to try and create offense. Ultimately, I try to build my game from the defensive zone then out through the neutral zone. In the Coast (ECHL), I played a little more on the wing, tend to be more of a fore-checking presence and secondary scorer down there. Here, I was lucky enough to get a goal early on but primarily I’d say I am a defensive forward.
The Monarchs are in the middle of a race to make the playoffs and O’Connor and some of the other newer roster players have been tossed right into the mix and have not missed a stride.
“I think a lot of guys that have been here all year and older guys have kind of mentioned it,” reasoned O’Connor. “To step up into this type of atmosphere at this time of year where every game is so big and every play is so crucial, you have to be intense and be focused any time of year when you get the call up but especially right now there’s a little extra focus and intensity and importance to each game.”
O’Connor and the rest of the Monarchs look to extend their eight-game point streak when they take on the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at the Verizon Wireless Arena on March 15 at 7:00 p.m.