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O.C. In LA: Q&A with Mike O'Connell

by Jeff Moeller / Los Angeles Kings

Mike O’Connell, who handles Pro Development and Special Assignment duties for the Kings, will be inducted into the Massachusetts Hockey Hall of Fame this Wednesday (November 9). recently caught up with O’Connell, who lives in Boston, and asked the following questions about his career, his duties with the Kings and his “teammates” in the Kings development department:

How do you reflect back on your own playing career and how do you describe it to someone who isn’t familiar with what you’ve accomplished in the league?

O’Connell: “I was a puck-moving defenseman in an era where puck-moving defensemen weren’t as valuable.  When I first broke into the league it was a bigger man’s game, a lot of physical play, so fighting was a huge part of the game.  Back in those days the Philadelphia Flyers were the Broadstreet Bullies and you had to go through Philly to get anywhere.  The Islanders had a very strong team.  But that was the realm that I came into and being a puck-moving defenseman it took me three and a half years to get into the National Hockey League.  I was a pretty good skater but basically a puck mover who had to find a way to exist in a physical world.  

Is there a hockey accomplishment in your post-playing career that really sticks out to you that you’re really proud of?

O’Connell: “I really enjoyed the ride.  I constantly think that my role in the game is evolving.  I did get a little bit of a glimpse of the Stanley Cup with Boston winning with and many of the players that I’ve helped develop.  I got a little bit of a taste of it but as far as I’m concerned it hasn’t happened yet and hopefully it will happen with Los Angeles and we’ll get a chance to win a Stanley Cup there.”

You’re from Chicago originally but Boston is now your home, is it not?

O’Connell: “Yes.  I was just born in Chicago but I was raised in Boston.”

Can you talk about the hockey mindset in the New England-area on the whole?

O’Connell: “It’s a huge part of society.  I look at what Boston is like in the winter and you need something to do.  It’s cold weather, the ponds are available to freeze, and it’s been a long, long history of hockey playing in the New England area.  When the winter hits you have two options, go to a basketball game or go to a hockey game or you stay home.  A lot of people choose to go to a hockey game.  It’s a great place to be involved in the game of hockey.”

Can you define your role with the Kings organization now?

O’Connell: “We draft the players, we acquire players, young players, and then I start the process of getting them ready for the pro game. If they’re 18 year olds I try to explain what they’re going to get into, along with Nelson Emerson and Mike Donnelly and we just go from there.  We start with trying to develop really good habits, ones that we recognize are really important and then go from there.  Once we establish a relationship with these guys, we start taking those off-ice habits, hopefully they will have good ones but the ones that we think need to be refined to become a pro and then we go on ice and start with their on-ice habits, from the basics of passing and receiving, shooting, to handling, and team play, the things that we really emphasize.  We want these guys to be good pros and to be pretty good pros you have to start with the basics.”

What are some of strengths of Emerson as it relates to his job?

O’Connell: “I’ve been out of the game a little longer then Nelly, that’s the advantage of seeing players grow and develop at different stages.  He has been an unbelievable resource for me.  He helps me understand the newer players.  But also I think we work well together because I have a little bit of an advantage over him seeing the players develop just based on my time in management.  I think the combination of both really works well with our younger players with a more recent NHLer but also a person like myself that helps them understand what the process is and what management thinks sometimes.  It’s a difficult process trying to get to the highest level in the world, the National Hockey League.”

And what Mike Donnelly, another former Kings forward?

O’Connell: “Mike was a goal scorer and an offensive player.  He was a person that worked extremely hard to get to the level where he was through shooting, through constant repetition using weighted pucks, non-weighted pucks, and wooden balls.  He’s brought that expertise to our young players and to our staff and this is how you have to do it.  People don’t realize that Mike was a free agent, a college free agent.  He was a walk-on at Michigan State.  It wasn’t given to him, he had to work extremely hard to where he got and he brings that to us and to our staff.  It really compliments it, and we really enjoy working with him.  He’s a huge part of the success of our development program.”

Special thanks to Lindsay Adler

Mike O’Connell bio:

Mike O’Connell, who spent six seasons as Vice President and General Manager of the Boston Bruins, is in his sixth season with the Kings.  His current title is Pro Development and Special Assignments after serving as Director of Pro Development his first two years with the club.

Having joined the Kings with more than 20 years of NHL experience as both a player, Assistant Coach, Head Coach (he served as the Interim Head Coach of the Bruins for nine games in the 2002-03 season) and front office executive, O’Connell in Boston was instrumental in assembling a club that won two Northeast Division titles before he left the organization in March of 2006.

Before establishing himself in the front office, O’Connell enjoyed a standout 13-year NHL career as a defenseman with the Bruins, Detroit Red Wings and his hometown Chicago Blackhawks.  He recorded three 50-plus point seasons (from 1982-85) when he played for Boston and he was an NHL All-Star in 1984.  He still holds the Bruins record for longest goal streak by a defenseman with seven games – it was also an NHL record for 25 years before Washington’s Mike Green set a new mark in February of 2009 -- and he re-joined the Bruins organization as an Assistant Coach in 1991 before the club advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals that season.

A native of Chicago, O’Connell, 55 (11/25/55), who also served as the Head Coach of Boston’s AHL affiliate in Providence for two seasons from 1992-94, re-joined the parent club in 1994 as Assistant General Manager, a post he held for six seasons.

He and his wife Rosemary reside in Cohasset, Massachusetts.  They have a daughter, Kristen, and two sons, Matthew and Gregory.

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