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O'Gara Rounded into Form at Yale

by Eric Russo / Boston Bruins

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Winning a national championship as a freshman can certainly distort a player’s expectations for the future.

It is easy for such an accomplishment to cultivate a far brighter outlook for the future.

Yale senior defenseman Rob O’Gara admits that such thoughts seeped into his mind briefly early on in his Bulldogs career. It’s understandable, considering O’Gara had not only won it all as a 19-year-old, but was already a 2011 fifth-round draft pick of the Boston Bruins.

Everything was swell.

But by the end of O’Gara’s sophomore season, he began realizing things weren’t going to be so perfect all the time.

After taking down Quinnipiac to capture the 2013 national title, the Bulldogs struggled to gain much traction the following season and were ousted by the Bobcats in the first round of the ECAC quarterfinals.

“The difference was crazy,” O’Gara said of his freshman and sophomore campaigns. “Then you realize it’s not easy…that was the lesson, and I think the lesson was even stronger after sophomore year, saying, ‘Alright, things can end like this too.’

“And then moving forward and just taking the bad with the good and learning from each experience. It’s definitely helped the last two years.”

That it has.

O’Gara developed into one of the best defensemen in college hockey over that span, earning All-American, All-ECAC, and All-Ivy League honors for his performance last season as a junior, when he tallied a career-high 21 points (6 goals, 15 assists), while posting a plus-15 rating.

This past season, the Nesconset, N.Y., native was once again the backbone of the Bulldogs' success. And with his senior campaign now concluded, O’Gara is starting to reflect on his growth both on and off the ice during his time in New Haven.

“For the last 5-6 years, it’s been, ‘If [playing hockey] is what I want to do, I need to do whatever it takes to get there. I feel like I’ve really put that sort of mindset first in my head," said O'Gara, who on Tuesday signed a two-year entry level contract with the Bruins and will report to Providence on an Amateur Tryout Agreement for the remainder of this season.

“I’m really excited to see where my work has taken me.”

That work included rounding out his game to become a solid two-way defenseman. Coming out of Milton Academy, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound O’Gara was considered a shutdown, stay-at-home blue-liner.

But with the game becoming increasingly more fast-paced, he had to adjust. Yale’s coaches put an emphasis on getting back on pucks faster and transitioning out of the defensive end quickly.

“My bread and butter will always be the D-zone and making sure that I’m being solid and not trying to do too much – a guy that can play minutes against top lines,” said O’Gara, whose Bulldogs fell to UMass-Lowell, 3-2, in overtime of the NCAA East Regional semifinal.

“I think I’ve added being able to move the puck and getting back on pucks. That side of the game is so important now with transition and the game getting faster. 

“We work on that so much here and just making sure that when we go back on pucks we’re talking and we know what our options are.”

Growth on the ice has not been O’Gara’s only area of maturation. He blossomed into a leader on the bench and in the dressing room, becoming someone coach Keith Allain could depend on in any situation.

“He came in here like most young freshmen, particularly a guy right out of prep school, where he was quiet, unassuming, looked up to the veterans, kind of waited his turn to speak,” said Allain.

“Now, he’s one of the absolute leaders on our hockey team. He’s grown in all the ways a coach hopes that their players will grow.”

O’Gara heaped praise on Allain and his staff, as well as Bruins Director of Player Development Jay Pandolfo, for being vital parts of his development

“I’ve been lucky enough to speak with [Pandolfo] a lot,” said O’Gara. “We get so much done in such a small amount of time that it’s so valuable having those teaching moments…it’s so beneficial to have the experience with these coaches.”

Allain has high hopes for O’Gara’s future, believing that once O’Gara fills out his 6-foot-4-inch frame, he has the potential to be a top-four defenseman in the NHL.

“To play the number of games, play the minutes that I think he’s capable of playing, he’s got to thicken up his body. But that’s what I see as his upside,” said Allain.

“[He has] become what I think is the best defenseman in college hockey. That’s a tremendous amount of growth [since his freshman year].”

For O’Gara, it seems like yesterday that he was that unassuming freshman with so much to learn, the lanky kid hoisting the national championship trophy on the ice at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

“When you go through everything…school, relationships, anything, everything with these guys – you live in the same house with these guys – that’s what I’ll miss the most, just being close to guys and having every aspect of our game intertwined,” said O’Gara.

But O’Gara knows there is another chapter fast approaching.

“I’m excited for what may come,” said O’Gara. “I think I’ve put myself in a good spot. I’m excited for whatever is next.”

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