BostonBruins.com - Rob O’Gara is just a freshman at Yale University. But the 19-year-old defenseman out of Massapequa, New York already knows how to win.
The six-foot-four, 205-pound O’Gara, a fifth-round draft pick by the Bruins in the 2011 NHL Draft, was a member of the 2011 U18 Junior Bruins state title team and helped Milton Academy to the 2010-11 New England Championship.
And just this past weekend, he won the NCAA Division I National Championship with the Yale Bulldogs at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
“Oh, absolutely,” said O’Gara, when asked if he has acquired a winning mindset. “I hate to lose, just ask anybody who has ever played with me and they'll tell you that same thing. I try to go on the ice every time, whether it's practice or a game, and I just tell myself that losing isn't an option.
“That was a great team mindset that we had this year.”
From the moment the Bulldogs stepped into the dressing room this past fall the goal was to bring a National Championship to New Haven. O’Gara said the leadership of the seniors was vital in creating a winning attitude from the start and eventually achieving their goal.
“From the second we walked into the locker room, the senior leadership – [senior forward] Andrew Miller specifically – really focused us on winning championships, whether it was the Ivy League or the ECAC or the National Tournament.
“Those were our goals and we were focused from the first day as a team until the last. I think that gave us the right mindset going into every game, really taking it one step at a time. [Head] Coach [Keith] Allain always told us that, about never looking ahead, sort of keep humble, keep with our system.
“Once that clicked for everyone, I think we obviously finished with some success.”
O’Gara said he has been on quite the high since Saturday night, when the Bulldogs took down cross-town rival, Quinnipiac, 4-0 in the title game. It was the first National Championship for Yale.
“Oh, man, I think I'm still on Cloud Nine a little bit. Going back to class has kind of knocked it down a couple of notches,” the freshman joked. “But it's just been absolutely surreal. Having my parents there to share that with me after the game, and to spend time with my teammates; coming back to school and being welcomed by, basically, the whole campus.
“It's been so much fun. Such an honor to share it with such a great group of guys.”
After two seasons at MIlton Academy, O’Gara made the most of his debut season. The defenseman did not score a goal, but notched seven assists and played all 37 games for the Bulldogs.
“Coming in, it's a pretty big jump from prep hockey to the college level, but over the summer you try to skate as much you can,” explained O’Gara. “The team does a good job with that. The transition went pretty well. Coach Red [Gendron], and being paired with [junior] Gus Young really helped me a ton because if I ever had a question, they were always there to answer it and work with me in the morning.
“I think coming in and getting the habits of solid defense and awareness and really nailing it down. Coming in, I guess I tended to run around a little more, then Red telling me to stay calm and composed, it really helped. I think the whole awareness aspect and keeping my poise was the biggest thing, too, that I had to develop as the year went on.
“I think I did a good job of honing that habit as the year concluded. I'm really happy with how the year went obviously from a team aspect, and an individual aspect. I'm really looking forward to next year.”
One of the main focuses for O’Gara, prior to the season, was getting bigger and stronger, and developing into more of physical defenseman. At times, O’Gara, who put on 10 pounds since arriving at Yale, was tentative in practice, afraid to get physical with his teammates, something he says hurt him when games came along.
“Absolutely,” said O’Gara when asked if bulking up was an important goal before the season. “In practice before this year, I tended to really shy away from hitting my teammates and stuff like that. I think that kind of hurt me in games. I think this year I've been more intense in practice and that's really translated to the ice.
“It's been less of, 'alright, it's a game now, you have to turn this on.' It's been more of, 'OK, let's go, let's go out and play.' I think that's helped my game a lot.”
O’Gara has also been in frequent contact with Bruins Assistant General Manager Don Sweeney throughout the season, in order to keep up on with any improvements he needs to make.
“Don was at a few games throughout the year and we had a lot of time to talk about my game and about my growth on and off the ice,” said the defenseman. “Really that was so important, and Don, every game he watched he had a few pointers for me.
“Obviously, I tried to focus on them at practice. I think using my stick is the most important thing, it's definitely my greatest weapon, it's quite a long reach. It can really disrupt some offenses, focus on that and focus on battling in the corners. Those are two specific things that he told me to focus on.”
Next season, O’Gara isn’t planning on himself, or his team, slowing down.
“Over the summer I just want to keep getting bigger, stronger, faster,” he said of his goals for the offseason. “Those are the biggest things for me and I think they will be for a long time. For next year, it's to repeat and do the same thing that we did this year and add an Ivy League title and ECAC championship to that too.
“That's not going to change, that's all we're going to be focused on until we get it.”