Veteran Shane O’Brien awaits trade after being sent to AHL, feels he has lots to offer an NHL team
Flames-turned-Heat defenceman is disappointed but notes the demotion has also rekindled his passion
He likes his teammates. He likes his coach. He likes his ice time.
But Shane O’Brien is not happy.
“Obviously, I believe I’m an NHL player,” O’Brien is saying Thursday afternoon from Abbotsford where — after an uninterrupted 528-game stretch in the National Hockey League — he’s again skating in the minors. “So I’ve got to work hard, play hard. Hopefully, some teams see me and are willing to give me another chance. I’m only 30 years old, so I feel I’ve got a couple good years left in me, anyway.
“Obviously, I realize I’m a (team’s fifth or sixth defenceman) and I’m going to play against the bigger, tougher lines. I’m OK with that.
“I feel that I can be a regular in the NHL again.”
For a Calgary Flames club that covets size, that relishes grit, O’Brien — six-foot-three, 230 pounds — would seem a likely fit.
Not even close.
O’Brien’s sandpaper wasn’t a nightly presence. Patchier yet was coach Bob Hartley’s faith in the outspoken rearguard, seven times scratched.
“It is what it is with Bob,” says O’Brien, whose average workload this season had been 11:15. “You could tell by the ice time where I stood in their minds. I don’t think it’s anything personal. I don’t think Bob thinks I’m a bad guy, but, obviously, he doesn’t think I’m a very good player. Same with (associate coach) Jacques Cloutier. From Day 1, they didn’t think I could play on their team.
“Hopefully, I can get a chance somewhere else and prove them wrong.”
Shortly after being saddled Jan. 24 with a minus-three — in less than six minutes of toil against Nashville — O’Brien’s stall had been cleaned out, his name plate yanked, his services heaved onto the waiver wire.
No takers meant that O’Brien, with another full year at $2 million on his ticket, was taking his act to Abbotsford. Spoiled, too, was his Olympic-break trip to Hawaii with his girlfriend.
“I saw it coming, so I was prepared for it,” O’Brien says of the demotion. “It’s obviously disappointing. I’m just trying to play well and get up (to the NHL) sooner rather than later.”
Flames boss Brian Burke informed the well-travelled defender that he’ll try to orchestrate a trade. O’Brien, with six NHL stops already to his name, cannot wait.
The last time O’Brien graced the American Hockey League? Back in 2005-06, with the Portland Pirates, whose roster featured names such as Getzlaf, Perry, Penner, Glencross, Ryan, Kunitz, Smid, Konopka.
“Burkie told me . . . he didn’t want to bury me down here,” says O’Brien. “Hopefully, I can take care of my side of the deal and play well down here.”
So O’Brien continues to skate for Troy Ward’s Heat.
He’s paired with rookie Tyler Wotherspoon — “He’s going to be a good solid defenceman for a long time in the NHL” — and is patiently listening to chirps from rival players. And residing in a nearby hotel.
“I’ve got someone to clean my room and make my bed every day,” he chuckles, “so it’s not that bad.”
Housekeeping benefits aside, O’Brien insists that his game has been somewhat rekindled by the Heat.
So the situation there is OK, as long as it’s temporary.
“It’s fun to play hockey again,” O’Brien says. “I was kind of losing my love for it. When you’re not playing much, it’s tough to keep it going. And to be around these young kids? It gives you a little more energy. So I’ve enjoyed it so far.”
C-NOTES: Flames signed D Kris Russell, 26, to a two-year extension worth $2.6 million per season . . . The team doesn’t play again till Feb. 27 — when Los Angeles visits — but resumes practice Feb. 19.
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