A version of the following story appeared in the 2018-19 second edition of AVALANCHE, the official game magazine of the Colorado Avalanche Hockey Club. For more feature stories, purchase a copy of the magazine during Avs home games at Pepsi Center. All proceeds from game-magazine sales support youth hockey associations in Colorado.
Logan O'Connor's summer training for the 2018-19 season had to be put into overdrive this past July.
One day, the forward was preparing to lead the University of Denver men's hockey team as captain. The next, he was getting ready for his first pro campaign.
"I definitely became a little more focused there in the mid parts of the summer, just because the college season doesn't start for a while," said O'Connor to ColoradoAvalanche.com. "So I was sort of preparing for that, but when the Avalanche came around things obviously began going a little quicker. It sort of sped things up in the summer."
The Calgary, Alberta, native had just completed his junior campaign with the DU Pioneers and had become a reliable two-way player for the squad. He registered back-to-back seasons of at least seven goals and 18 points and was viewed as one of the leaders that would help the program win another national championship after capturing the 2017 title.
His attitude with the Pioneers and the two years prior with Sioux Falls of the United States Hockey League was to become the best hockey player he could be and earn a spot in the NHL someday. He got his chance to show his worth last June when he was invited to the Colorado Avalanche's development camp.
Colorado's summer camp aims to put the club's rookies, prospects and camp invites in a less competitive environment and have them not worry about trying to make the NHL team. The Avs focus their camp on growing players' skills and helping them get adjusted to what life in the best league in the world might be like.
Despite the more laidback atmosphere in the summer, there are still opportunities for players to prove themselves, and O'Connor took advantage of the situation. He displayed his strong skating ability in on-ice sessions and stood out during the 3-on-3 scrimmage against his Avalanche peers where he scored three goals.
A few weeks after development camp ended, the Avs offered O'Connor a two-year, entry-level contract. He signed on July 23, forgoing his college eligibility and beginning life as a pro.
"That was my whole mindset going into camp, playing the best I could play, and hopefully let that opportunity present itself," O'Connor said. "Fortunately, I had a good camp and the opportunity was there. I went there and did what I had to do. I'm happy with how it all went. When I was presented with a chance to sign with the Avalanche, it was hard to turn down."
Video: Logan O'Connor before his NHL debut
However, the decision to put ink on paper wasn't an easy one, despite his NHL dream being the closest it had ever been.
O'Connor was named the Pioneers' captain weeks earlier, and he didn't want to disappoint his teammates.
"It was definitely the hardest decision in my life," he said. "Having that dream right in front of you shows how unbelievable and special DU was to me and everyone that throws on the sweater there.
"I sent a message to the team about signing and letting them know that I wasn't coming back. I was sort of tentative of sending that message, as anyone would be. I didn't want to let them down. The support I received from every single guy on that team was remarkable. Every single guy reached out to me personally and commented how proud they are and how they are looking forward to watching me. They were amazing. Having that support really helped the situation."
When training camp came in September, O'Connor again stood out and was one of the final cuts that Colorado made. He didn't make it easy for the Avalanche coaching and management staff, but the team ultimately decided it would be best for his development to begin the year in the American Hockey League with the Colorado Eagles.
For O'Connor, it was another chance for him to show that he belonged in the NHL.
"Just more momentum and drive as a player and person to get to that level," he said. "Getting some experience in training camp and being around the Avalanche and how special it is to wear that jersey… it will drive me to get back to this awesome team."
O'Connor has made his mark during his rookie campaign with the Eagles, scoring nine goals and adding seven assists in 30 games. He ranked first among rookies and third overall on the team with 16 points, and his three short-handed tallies were tied for the most in the AHL.
On Sunday while the Eagles were preparing to take on the Manitoba Moose, O'Connor received the call he had dreamed about. The forward was heading to Denver to make his NHL debut on New Year's Eve against the Los Angeles Kings, completing a hectic 2018.
"He's an impact player down there," said Avs head coach Jared Bednar. "Most of his chances and scoring opportunities for himself and his linemates are created by his tenacity and relentlessness on the puck. We need a little of that in our lineup right now."
If recent history is any clue, O'Connor will once again take full advantage of the opportunity.