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Happy Homecoming

New Jersey native Drew O'Connor's family had quite the presence for Sunday's game at Prudential Center

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Pictured above from left to right is Drew's mom Meagan, sister McKenna, and dad Shawn.

Ahead of Sunday's game against the Devils in New Jersey, Drew O'Connor told director of team services Jason Seidling that he needed to order 32 of his No. 10 jerseys.

"He said Jason was like, 'Are you sure you want this many?'" Drew's mom Meagan said with a laugh. "And Drew was like, 'I have a big family.'"

And while the jerseys didn't end up arriving in time for the game, all of Drew's family members were able to make it to Pittsburgh's 3-2 win over the Devils, which marked the Chatham, N.J. native's first NHL game in his home state. 

After Meagan took Drew's sister McKenna to Friday's 3-2 overtime win in Pittsburgh, they returned home to attend Sunday's contest with his brother Jack - who drove in from New York City, where he lives and works - and his dad Shawn.

Shawn has five brothers and a sister, and they're all local, which meant Drew's uncles, aunts and cousins were all at the game.

"The O'Connors had a presence there, for sure," the 23-year-old rookie forward said with a laugh.

With Chatham being an easy 25-minute drive from Newark, the O'Connors have been going to Devils games for quite some time. And before the team moved to Prudential Center in 2007, the family would also make the 30-minute trek to East Rutherford, home of Meadowlands Arena - which is where Drew's fandom was born.

"I took Drew and Jack to the Meadowlands parking lot to see the Stanley Cup when the Devils won in 2003," Shawn said. "He's always been a big Devils fan."

Meagan said the boys had a poster of Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur on one of the bedroom walls, while Drew had former Devils captain Zach Parise's jersey as a kid. His favorite memory was being there for Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Final, where Parise and the Devils defeated the New York Rangers to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

"The place was going crazy, so that was awesome," O'Connor said.

But while the family rooted for the Devils growing up, at one point, they did end up with a blue Evgeni Malkin jersey from the 2008 Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo.

Jack wore it in the family Christmas card two years later, and eleven years later, McKenna wore it to a Devils game to watch Drew play against their hometown team as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins…and one of Malkin's teammates.

This year has been another great chapter in Drew's amazing story, as he left Pittsburgh in the spring determined to be even better when he returned in the fall. So he made the decision to work out with trainer Ben Prentiss in Stamford, Connecticut, which turned out to be hugely beneficial. 

Not only did Prentiss help him get stronger and faster on the ice; he gave O'Connor a lot of tips when it came to cooking his meals. Shawn and Meagan said Drew's always been good when it comes to that stuff, but he took it to another level this summer, cutting out all gluten and dairy from his diet.

"I would just make a lot of sweet potatoes, things like that," O'Connor said. "Some healthy stuff, a lot of vegetables. I just tried my best."

While O'Connor did have a place in Stamford he would stay at, whenever he was at home it would be an hour and a half drive from Chatham…on a good day. Adding another layer of complexity to the situation is that Drew was a full-time student at Dartmouth this summer, as he had left college following the conclusion of his sophomore season to turn pro with the Penguins in March of 2020.

"It was a lot," Meagan said. "It's a terrible drive. Some mornings he would get there right on time and be in the car for two hours because there was so much traffic, then he'd have to go to class. But he did an unbelievable job."

O'Connor said the one silver lining of the pandemic is that Dartmouth moved all of their classes online, which made it easier to keep plugging away at his degree.

"This spring would be when my class was supposed to graduate. I still have three more classes, so I'm trying to figure out a way to get it done," he said. "I'm kind of working towards that. I got a little bit ahead when I was at school because I thought maybe I'd be leaving early, and stayed with it. So I'm a little bit ahead of where I would be, but not close enough to graduate on time. So maybe over the summer, I'll get it done."

All of Drew's hard work this summer paid off in all facets, especially on the ice, as he thoroughly impressed the Penguins coaching staff and management with his confidence and conviction.

"He came in terrific shape," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "He had a real good offseason. He had a real strong training camp, and he's continued to progress throughout the course of this early part of the season. He's improved in so many aspects of his whole overall game. I think it starts with his mindset and his confidence level coming into this year. I think it's at a different level than it was a year ago. He knows what to expect."

Off the ice, O'Connor still has a bit of work to do. His parents (lovingly) ribbed him a bit last year for his fashion sense, saying that while he did have a couple nice suits, he maybe wasn't the greatest dresser. Drew admitted that not much has changed in that regard.

"I wouldn't say it's improved too much," he said with a laugh. "I definitely have a long way to go. I got a couple new things, but nothing crazy yet. So I don't know. I need some work, I think. I agree with them on that."

In the meantime, Drew - and his family - plan on enjoying every minute of this exciting ride. It hasn't always been easy, as Shawn and Meagan weren't able to watch his debut in person last season with the COVID restrictions. That's something that still has to be navigated, along with the uncertainty of Drew's presence in the lineup, as a young kid on an entry-level contract. But as soon as his parents know that he's in, they're watching, whether it's in person or on TV.

"Every game that he plays is a thrill for us," Meagan said.

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