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Athletics and education run in the O’Brien family

by Bill Meltzer

 

Like many NHL prospects, Flyers 2018 first-round pick Jay O’Brien comes from an athletic family. In his case, a dual commitment to education and sports runs strong in his family. 

 

A star at Thayer Academy prep school in Braintree, Massachusetts, where he was coached by former Flyers winger Tony Amonte (himself a Thayer alum), O’Brien chose to remain at the school through his graduation despite opportunities to play against more challenging hockey opposition. Next season, O’Brien will attend Providence College.

“It was a pretty easy decision for me to stay. I played for an unbelievable coach. I developed a great relationship with my teammates and classmates there. I always wanted to finish school there and play my senior year there,” O’Brien explained.

Jay’s dad, Frank O’Brien III, was a student-athlete at Lake Forest University. His grandfather, the late Frank “Junie” O’Brien, was something of a local icon in New England, where his legacy has lived on long beyond his passing in 2012 at the age of 92.

 

In his youth, Junie O’Brien captained the Yale University baseball team and was a teammate and lifelong close personal friend of future U.S. president George H.W. Bush. Later, O’Brien became the longtime hockey and baseball coach as well as an English teacher at the famed Groton School in Groton, Massachusetts.

Jay O’Brien cites his granddad as a vital inspiration in his life.

He was my biggest role model. I mean, he coached hockey, baseball and taught English class at Groton for 30 years. He was just an unbelievable person and helped so many people out. He was a special guy and a good role model for me. He didn’t coach me on a team, but we’d be in the backyard rink and he’d give me some pointers. I was just grateful to have him,” O’Brien said.

Among the many lives touched by Junie O’Brien were those of famed baseball writer and commentator Peter Gammons and Paul Stewart; the only American to both play and referee in the NHL.

The O’Briens are a great family. I owed an awful lot to Junie O’Brien and his wife Marianna, who everyone called ‘Muffin’. Frankie and his sisters are tremendous people, too, and Jay is a really good kid as well as an excellent NHL prospect,” Stewart said.

Asked of which current or former NHL player Jay O’Brien most reminds him at about the same age, Stewart cited another Thayer Academy product: Jeremy Roenick.

Jay has a very high skill level but he also has a lot of moxie and plays with a bit of an edge, similar to the way Roenick played. O’Brien is a very smooth skater, shoots the puck well and is a smart hockey player. I think the Flyers did their homework and, down the line, he’s going to be a good player in the NHL. Before that, he’s going to be in an excellent collegiate program,” Stewart said.

Come the fall, Jay O’Brien will attend Providence College, where he will be coached by Nate Leaman. Back in 2014-15, after leading the Friars to the NCAA national championship, Leaman was named USCHO Coach of the Year.

I think it’s the best developmental league in the world to play in the NHL. You can be a student and an athlete, just kind of the life situation stuff. Hockey East I think is the strongest league, one of the strongest leagues in college hockey and that’s why I chose it. Especially playing for Coach Leaman, he’s going to develop me into an NHL player and I’m ready to do that. We talk pretty much every week. After this I’m going right down to Providence. I’ll start taking some classes and working out there with them. I have to prove everything, I’m not going to go in there and be handed anything, so I’m prepared to do that,” Jay O’Brien said.

True to his word, right after the conclusion of the Flyers Development Camp, O’Brien left for the Providence campus. He is taking a summertime course in public speaking and working out in preparation for his first collegiate hockey season. In August, he will be one of three Flyers prospects attending Hockey USA’s development camp; the first step toward competing for a Team USA roster spot at the 2018-19 World Junior Championships.