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Chance to compete is good news for O'Marra

by Brian Compton

Ryan O'Marra netted two goals in his first
game with the ECHL's Stockton Thunder.

At age 20, Ryan O’Marra has been through quite a lot already in his career.

He’s been a first-round draft pick. He’s been signed by the team that drafted him, the New York Islanders. He’s even been traded.

Most recently, the two-way center was reassigned to the ECHL’s Stockton Thunder. O’Marra, who was dealt by the Islanders to the Edmonton Oilers in February as part of the Ryan Smyth deal, is looking at the move as a way to get his game on track.

He scored twice in his first ECHL game, helping the Thunder earn a 4-0 win over the host Phoenix Roadrunners Oct. 24. The 15th overall pick in 2005 admitted the transition to Stockton wasn’t so difficult, given the relationship with some of his teammates from Edmonton’s training camp.

“There wasn’t much of an adjustment period,” O’Marra said. “I knew a lot of these guys prior (to being reassigned), just from camp and whatnot. I’m actually living with (Thunder defenseman) Brian Lee in one of the houses here. It’s been a very easy adjustment.”

Stockton coach Chris Cichocki has been handed the task by Oilers’ management to help O’Marra’s development. O’Marra played in only three games for AHL Springfield prior to his reassignment, watching five more from the press box.

“There has been movement almost on a weekly basis with Springfield,” Cichocki said. “Last year, our lineup was pretty well set. They just didn’t watch him sitting in Springfield. They wanted him playing. He’s played a lot the first two games here, and he’ll continue to play a lot. It’s the best thing for his career.”

O’Marra said he wasn’t floored when told he was going to the ECHL. Instead, he is viewing the reassignment the same way as Cichocki. In the end, it’s a chance to get the playing time he needs to truly develop into the player the Oilers hope he is.

“It didn’t really take me by surprise,” O’Marra said. “I only played in three of eight games. I wasn’t playing much. I was hoping to stay longer, but I’m going to get to play a lot more down here and develop.”

O’Marra has been impressed with the talent he plays with or against on a nightly basis. Several of his teammates in Stockton are under contract with either Springfield or Edmonton.

“It’s a great level of play,” O’Marra said. “It’s a great league. There’s a lot of excellent players down here, a lot of guys on contracts. There’s just a lot of good players in general.”

In 2006, some may have thought O’Marra was on the fast track to Long Island. After notching 77 points in 61 games for the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters, O’Marra joined the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. O’Marra made eight regular-season appearances for the Sound Tigers, tallying four goals and an assist. He also had an assist in three postseason contests.

Just like he did during that stretch, O’Marra is confident that he can play at such a high level on a consistent basis. If he does that in Stockton, he could find himself back in Springfield sooner rather than later.

“I feel really good about my game,” O’Marra said. “I think it’s a numbers game. In Bridgeport, I was in a situation where the majority of the team was called up. I think I was the first-line center at that time. I was given an opportunity, due to the fact that we didn’t have all of our big guns playing. Once it came down to playoffs, I was hurt for the first four games and then I played the next three and I was on the third or fourth line. I’m sure that would have been the case had I had been there with all those guys down.”

O’Marra admitted he was surprised when he got the call that he had been traded to the Oilers. Islanders GM Garth Snow shipped O’Marra and Robert Nilsson, as well as a first-round pick in 2007, to Edmonton in exchange for Smyth, who wound up signing with the Colorado Avalanche as a free agent less than five months after the deal went down.

“A little bit,” O’Marra said when asked if the trade shocked him. “I didn’t take it as bad thing; I took it as another team wanted me enough to make a pretty good offer. I was part of a deal with two other excellent players.”

Now, O’Marra must work on becoming an excellent player in his own right. He knows he must work on every facet of his game if he hopes to one day land in the NHL. He also hopes his desire to win games will rub off on his teammates. Stockton has won just two of its first five contests this season.

“Right now, I’ve just got to focus on playing my game,” O’Marra said. “I have to be physical and play a two-way game and put up some offensive numbers. One thing I will try to bring is a winning attitude. I try to pride myself in winning at every level. Hopefully if there’s a chance to be called up, I’ll get the call. If not, I’ve just got to keep working hard.”

Cichocki is confident that if O’Marra does work hard and take advantage of the situation that’s been presented to him, then Stockton will merely be the first step on the road to the NHL. In essence, O’Marra is currently carrying the same burden as so many other players in the ECHL – trying to do enough to prove that he belongs at a higher level.

“He’s a first-year guy, and he’s going to have to earn his stripes,” Cichocki said. “Certainly, he’d like to play in the American League or the NHL, but he’s got to learn how to play the pro game. There’re differences from junior hockey to pro, and he’s getting his start here. It is what it is. He’s got to make his mark here first and then move up the ladder.”


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