Londonderry's O'Connor a 'Senior' Monarch now
Londonderry native Ian O'Connor juggles the puck during practice in Manchester on Thursday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)
Signed to a professional tryout agreement by the Monarchs last week, O'Connor has quickly made an impression on the coaching staff. With dozens of friends and family in the stands on Wednesday night for his home debut, O'Connor scored his first AHL goal in a 3-2 Monarchs win over Bridgeport. Manchester will play at Portland tonight before hosting Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Sunday at 5 p.m.
"I love his compete level. He's a guy that pays attention to detail, he's strong over the puck, he wins faceoffs, he's alert in his own zone and he's responsible," Monarchs head coach Mark Morris said of O'Connor. "I think he's a complete player."
The 6-foot, 200-pound forward played for the Junior Monarchs from 2003-2007 before skating four years at Providence College. O'Connor had stints with Reading and Stockton in the ECHL before getting a two-game taste of the AHL with Worcester last year.
O'Connor, 25, has been with Reading this season, playing in 55 games with 18 goals and 13 assists before getting the call from Manchester.
"It's been good. I was really excited to get here," O'Connor said. "This opportunity is what you play for all year long. To be able to come to my hometown and play for the hometown team was something I was excited to do."
O'Connor said that he did dream of playing for the Monarchs when he was on the junior team but didn't know if it would ever happen.
"When you're playing junior hockey, your goal is to get to college or major junior and hopefully take your career further than that," he said. "To play for the Monarchs, it's something that I always thought would be an awesome experience but not something I thought would definitely happen."
O'Connor was able to record his first AHL goal in front of family and friends, and did it on a top-notch goalie to boot. Former New York Islanders netminder Rick DiPietro was unable to stop O'Connor's backhand shot from the slot.
"It was a good forecheck by (Anthony Stewart and Kris Belan) and they got the puck out front and I just wanted to put it on net and sometimes, that's all it takes," O'Connor said. "You've just got to kind of get it toward the net and hit some sticks and hopefully it finds a way in. It's good to get the first one."
O'Connor's family will be at another New Hampshire venue Saturday when the University of New Hampshire hosts rival UMaine. O'Connor's younger brother Brice is a junior defenseman with the Black Bears.
With the Monarchs off on Saturday, O'Connor will be able to see his brother play. And if the elder O'Connor's play continues at this pace, his family will be able to watch him play in Manchester for the rest of the season.
"All in all, he's been a pleasant surprise and it's been nice to see a New Hampshire native get an opportunity," Morris said. "It's great for fan support and for his family. He's a bright, articulate young guy that grasps concepts and goes out and executes. He's certainly made an impression on his teammates and his coaches and we look forward to having him build on what he's done to date."