SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Sports

July 2, 2014

Salem's O'Neill enjoys breakout AHL playoffs, eyes free agency

(Continued)

Similar summer routine

Fighting is part of professional hockey, and as a physical defenseman that’s something O’Neill has come to embrace. He fought twice as a rookie, then dropped the mitts four times this past season, plus once in the playoffs in a game his team won 5-1.

“Early on your reaction might be to pull back instead of push forward, but you realize you’re as tough as these guys. I realized if I’m going to play physical and that means I fight, that’s how it is,” said O’Neill. “Fights can definitely give the boys a lift, and I know how I feed off it when we’re involved in something like that.”

O’Neill, who was twice a Hockey East All-Tournament team pick at Maine and helped his junior team win the United States Junior Hockey League’s Clark Cup in 2008, hit stride in this year’s AHL playoffs. The Ice Caps were seeded fourth, beat Albany in four games in the first round and then took care of Norfolk in six games in the conference semis. O’Neill then had a goal and an assist in a 2-1 win that gave St. John’s a 3-1 series lead in the East finals, which they went on to win in six games.

All together, O’Neill had seven assists in his team’s first eight playoff games. He appeared in 18 of the 21 playoff contests, though he was suspended for one game by the AHL for crosschecking in the conference finals against Wilkes-Barre.

In the Calder Cup finals against Texas, St. John’s lost in five games. The Stars won the last three games of the series, all in overtime and all in St. John’s home rink.

“In some ways it makes it a little easier to swallow. We had a lot of chances and I no complaints, no regrets. We felt like we played out butts off and that’s just how things go,” said O’Neill, who had enjoyed life as a hockey player in a beautiful, oceanside town in Canada.

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