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Hockey sense key to O'Donnell's success

by Brad Boron / Chicago Blackhawks
Defenseman Sean O'Donnell became the elder statesman of the Blackhawks' blue line Friday (NHLI/Getty Images).

When Blackhawks VP/GM Stan Bowman went shopping in free agency last week, at the top of his list was adding responsible, experienced veterans who could also play with a gritty, hard edge. While the Blackhawks stocked up on Thursday and Friday, adding five new faces to the locker room, it’s possible that no single acquired player exemplifies those qualities better than Sean O’Donnell, who signed with Chicago after spending last season with Philadelphia.

“I think [bringing in veterans] was something they wanted to get back to,” O’Donnell said of Chicago’s foray into free agency, which brought in five players over the age of 30. “Every team, especially after you win, goes through some problems with trying to keep all their players and obviously the Hawks had to make all of those decisions last year. They have a great nucleus… I think the talent is there, they just wanted to get a different supporting cast, including some character guys and veterans.”

Now the elder statesman of the Blackhawks' blueline at age 39, O’Donnell, along with fellow new acquisition Steve Montador, will be part of a defensive core that includes the likes of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Nick Leddy, who was born just three months before O’Donnell was drafted in 1991.


Sean O'Donnell discusses his new captain, Jonathan Toews:

“I think he’s a special guy. I don’t know him personally, but I think playing against him, he’s one of those guys that has world-class ability, but he’s got almost a third- or fourth-liner's mentality, where he appears to be the hardest working guys on the team. When you can get a guy that’s your best player and also your hardest-working player, that’s exactly what you want from your captain, whether he’s 22 or 35. It’ll be fun to play for a team that’s led by a guy like that.”

“It’s a great blue line,” said O’Donnell. “You start with Duncan Keith, who won the Norris Trophy a year ago, and then add Seabrook and Hjalmarsson. It’s very deep, from top all the way down; you can put this one up against any team in the league. I think Chicago has done a really good job of helping the great players they already had back there. I think it’s a well-rounded group of six, seven, even eight guys.”

Although he tallied 18 points (G, 17A) last season with the Flyers, O’Donnell’s best value is in his own end, where he has proven to be more than responsible throughout his time in the league; in his 17-year NHL career, O’Donnell has recorded a negative plus/minus rating just twice, his last in 1996-97 with Los Angeles.

“Anyone who’s seen me play knows you’re pretty much seeing what you’re going to get,” he said. “If you don’t notice me out there, that means I played a pretty good game. I just play simple and hopefully mistake-free hockey.”

That said, he’s not afraid to help a teammate if the situation arises.

“I’m not 25 anymore, so I don’t fight the way I used to, but I’m still not afraid to go at it and stick up for a teammate,” O’Donnell said. “I feel if something happens in the game that might change momentum if I start something, I’ll do that but I think for the most part, I’m a good locker room guy, a good character guy and a good teammate.”

The savvy veteran says that the secret to his longevity in the younger, faster NHL is more mental than physical; the better you can understand the game, the longer you can play it. And for one more year at least, he’s back, hoping to add a second championship ring to the one he got in Anaheim after 2007's Stanley Cup run.

“You get a little older, but if you think the game well and you have a good head on your shoulders, you can play for a long time,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to stay away from the big injury and still keep going. I’m not going to say how much longer I have, but I still feel like I can be competitive and get physical and help the team in any way I can. I’m hoping that’s what I give the Blackhawks this year.”
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