BRIGHTON – At this time last September, Rob O’Gara was still roaming the campus of Yale University. In addition to preparing for the Bulldogs’ upcoming season, the senior defenseman was taking classes, doing homework and working to wrap up his degree.
To put it simply, he was a 22-year-old college kid, who also happened to be a very good hockey player.
Now, just a year later, his lifestyle has changed dramatically. O’Gara is a college graduate with a full-time job.
His sole task? Doing everything he can to prepare himself to become a player in the National Hockey League – more specifically to solidify a place along the Boston Bruins blue line.
“This summer, I didn’t have to worry about school,” said the defenseman, who was drafted by the Bruins in the fifth round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. “All I had to worry about was skating, cooking and getting the right amount of sleep.
“That’s the lifestyle now. I don’t have to worry about what classes I have to take in the fall. I don’t have to worry about getting good grades and getting mom a diploma.
“This is my job now and I have to prepare myself the best I can for this and for the season.”
It all began for O’Gara – and 24 other Bruins prospects – on Thursday, the first day of Boston Bruins Rookie Camp, during which the players were put through off-ice testing and conditioning.
The camp will shift to Buffalo on Friday, where the Bruins youngsters will compete in the Prospects Challenge, which includes a game each against prospects from the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils.
“It’s exciting. I can’t wait. It’s been a long summer and a lot of preparation that goes into this week, and this morning, I’m sort of taking it one step at a time,” said O’Gara. “Just sort of embracing every opportunity and taking in every second of this.
“This morning was tough, but it’s going to be a fun week. I’m really looking forward to it.”
After finishing off his four-year Yale career by tallying four goals and eight assists, and helping the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament, O’Gara quickly shifted his focus to his professional career. The Massapequa, N.Y., native signed a two-year entry level contract with the Bruins in late March, before suiting up with the Providence Bruins for five games at the end of last season.
O’Gara then spent much of his summer preparing at Edge Performance Systems in Foxborough.
“Going into the summer, I just said I’m going to do whatever I can to prepare myself and do what I’ve learned at development camps and through my years in college that I think will get me to that next level,” said O’Gara.
“Working out in Foxborough with Brian McDonough at EPS and skating with those guys and really sort of immersing myself in that pro lifestyle, it’s something that I’ve never experienced before.
“I feel so much better now than I did this time last summer and incrementally the summer before that. I feel like I’ve put myself in a place where I’ve worked my butt off. Just got to see what happens and embrace the opportunity.”
Opportunity appeared to be the word of the day on Thursday. The chance for younger players – particularly on the back end – to make it all the way to the National Hockey League this season is not far-fetched, according to Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney.
“Today was outlining competition,” said Sweeney, who also mentioned that O'Gara and fellow defenseman Matt Grzelyck would be at the "forefront of rookie camp and main camp."
“This is about their careers and really our organization. We need to put the best players on the ice. If you pass somebody or the opportunity is there, take a hold of it. This is really about competition from here on out.
“Is there opportunity for a player to make a jump, there absolutely is.”
O’Gara appeared to receive – and embrace – the message. His excitement to show the Bruins brass how much he has progressed was evident, as the 6-foot-4, 207-pound blue liner was nothing but smiles while meeting with the media inside the new Bruins dressing room at Warrior Ice Arena.
“There’s an opportunity and the guys realize that,” said O’Gara. “Everyone’s working their tails off to make the most of it and see if they can make an impact because they need guys to make an impact.
“From the top to the bottom, everyone has that pressure on them to perform. You can feel it in there; the guys are ready to go.”
The journey from now through training camp will be difficult, but O’Gara is embracing it all.
“If I’ve learned anything throughout my life – throughout hockey,” he said, “it’s never easy.”
But it’s still hockey. And it’s a lot more fun than sitting in a classroom.
The 2016 Boston Bruins Rookie Camp is presented by AT&T.