Bob O’Connor was born and raised in one hockey state, Rhode Island, only to move on and find fame and hockey fortune in another: Minnesota. The union’s smallest state is best known from a hockey perspective for its famed high school program at Mt. Saint Charles Academy, two Division I colleges, Brown University and Providence College, and a long time professional presence in Providence. He played at Providence College from 1959-62 logging 42 points (13g, 29a) in three varsity years at forward. He had earned all-state honors at the high school level and it would be at that level where a good portion of his distinguished coaching career would take place.
It is a distinguished coaching career that has set O’Connor apart from many and why he was recently honored with the State of Hockey Legacy Award between periods of the Minnesota Wild’s game against the Dallas Stars on Feb. 22.
In 2010 the Wild, along with Minnesota Hockey, and Fox Sports North established this recognition as part of Hockey Day Minnesota. It honors individuals who have made extraordinary and long term contributions to the sport in Minnesota. Previous winners have been high school coach/referee Lou Cotroneo (2010), college and professional player Neal Broten (2011), college and professional coach Glen Sonmor (2012), and player/administrator/ and broadcaster Lou Nanne (2014).
O’Connor relocated his family to Edina and began his career behind the bench. Over the years he has coached youth hockey at all levels as well as spending 18 campaigns as an assistant to Edina High School legends Willard Ikola and Bart Larson, along with a solo year at Eden Prairie High School. He also was an assistant at Hamline University for two years.
His exceptional ability to pass on insightful hockey knowledge was soon recognized and launched a long history of involvement with USA Hockey. O’Connor has served as Coach-in-Chief for Minnesota Hockey for 14 years (1980-94), director of USA Hockey’s Coaches Section for a decade (1994-2004) and as USA Hockey’s National Coach-in-Chief for two years (2004-06). Additionally, he was also a member of USA Hockey’s Youth Council for eight campaigns (1996-2004) and was voted director emeritus in 2004.
In 1984, he joined United States Olympic Coach Lou Vairo as an assistant for the Sarajevo games and had the opportunity to work with such future NHL stars as Pat LaFontaine and Chris Chelios as well as Olympic veterans John Harrington and Phil Verchota. O’Connor subsequently served as an assistant for both the 1991 and 1992 United States National Junior Teams that competed in the earlier days of the International Ice Hockey Federations World Junior Championship before the event became a staple of the year ending holiday season. Beyond that, he has served as either head coach or assistant coach for seven U.S. select teams.
All of these efforts have earned O’Connor numerous honors, most recently in December 2014, the USA Hockey Builders Award for those making lasting contributions to the long-term growth and success of USA Hockey. In 1990 he received the William Thayer Tutt Award for dedication to enhancing the sport in the United State at the grass roots level, while seven years later he was presented with the Walter Yacik Award—given to an individual who demonstrates a consistent commitment and contribution to coaching education and the development of USA Hockey coaches. He is the first person to receive all three prestigious awards.
During his lifetime, O’Connor has gathered a vast collection of electronic visuals, printed materials and art. These priceless archives now form the core of the USA Hockey Bob O’Connor International Resource Center located at USA Hockey’s national headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. When visiting, coaches and researchers can gain access to one man’s lifelong dedication to the game.
Bob and his wife Alice are the parents of two adult children, Mike, USA Hockey’s Director of Major Giving, and Paul. They reside in Hopkins.