Baltimore Sun

Sens pick Odenton’s O’Neill in 5th round

- By Katherine Fominykh

Archbishop Spalding hockey coach Rob Trantin remembers Cameron O’Neill as a small boy, batting pucks around down the street from his own parents’ house.

Trantin knew his older brothers. He knew the O’Neills as a good hockey family.

But as he came to know the youngest son, he began to realize something else. O’Neill was becoming something almost completely foreign to Anne Arundel County.

“I told everyone from the start,” Trantin said, “that this is a future NHL player.”

O’Neill, 18, proved Trantin’s prophesizi­ng true last month when the Ottawa Senators selected the Odenton native in the fifth round with the 143rd overall pick in the 2022 NHL draft.

When it happened, O’Neill mentally blacked out for a second while his family burst into cheers around him.

“I’d been imagining this for months, but when it happened, it didn’t feel real,” the 6-foot-1 forward said. “I still couldn’t believe it.”

While hockey is becoming more popular in Maryland and Anne Arundel County, an area largely dominated by lacrosse, O’Neill, a University of Massachuse­tts commit, getting drafted is a rarity but not unpreceden­ted.

In 2010, the Montreal Canadiens drafted Jarred Tinordi, son of longtime NHL defenseman Mark Tinordi, who lived in Millersvil­le and attended Severna Park middle and high schools. Tinordi currently plays for the New York Rangers as a defenseman.

O’Neill certainly felt like an outsider as his friends started signing up for soccer, football and lacrosse camps when he was young. But it didn’t bother him. Inside his household, everything was hockey. His older brothers, Colin and Jason, went on to compete for UMass-Lowell and Providence, respective­ly.

“I didn’t mind that I was different. I liked it. I love to play hockey,” O’Neill said.

A lot of his teammates at Piney Orchard in Odenton, one of two ice rinks in Anne Arundel County, said the same. They were used to being the only ones playing hockey.

The same was true when O’Neill went to Spalding, a school that prizes its hockey program more than most Maryland schools as it’s considered a varsity sport. O’Neill thrived. The freshman scorched opposing nets with 35 points (12 goals and 23 assists), lifting the Cavaliers to the 2018-19 Maryland Interschol­astic Athletic Associatio­n title and a berth in the Mid-Atlantic Prep Hockey League AA finals for the first time in program history.

Trantin remembers even the eldest players on the team looking to O’Neill as a leader.

“He made everyone better, whether or not you actually played on the ice,” Trantin said.

But as successful as O’Neill and the Cavaliers were, their coach knew the budding star needed to go. As much glory as O’Neill brought to Spalding, the freshman missed tons of class to travel with Team Maryland based out of Rockville. No profession­al scouts were coming to the Severn school to find their next prospect. Trantin urged O’Neill’s family to get him out of Maryland.

“We really respected that because you would think most coaches would be selfish and want to keep their players here,” O’Neill’s mother, Kathy, said.

O’Neill is thankful that he had an unusual hockey upbringing. It did nothing but bolster his work ethic. O’Neill ran more than he skated and rollerblad­ed when he couldn’t get on the ice.

“I think it makes you work a little harder because of the lack of resources,” he said. “Not as many rinks and it’s harder to get ice time, so you have to do a lot more shooting off the ice than on.”

It was night and day compared to the world O’Neill entered.

For his sophomore through senior years, O’Neill enrolled with Mount Saint Charles Academy in Rhode Island, a school that describes its hockey program as “nothing short of epic.”

Gone were the days of squeezing in ice time at the local rink and patching hours in on the road. Now, O’Neill needed only to look out a window.

That choice paid off. O’Neill amassed 57 goals and 76 assists in his final season at Mount Saint Charles. In the weeks leading up to this year’s draft, his stock rose. NHL Central Scouting ranked the Odenton native the 77th best Northern American skater in the draft.

It was because of that Kathy O’Neill held her breath as 142 other players were picked on July 7 and 8. When it finally happened, she felt more relief than anything else. She spent the next week scrolling through the Senators’ Twitter in fascinatio­n, spotting her son in profession­al gear standing amongst other real hockey players at their developmen­t camp.

“You can’t put into words how exciting it was,” she said.

O’Neill will spend his next year in Nebraska, playing a full season for the Tri-City Storm, a top-tier junior program in the United States Hockey League that had another five players drafted in 2021. From there, O’Neill will move on to UMass. He’s not sure how many years he’ll play there before Ottawa.

“I worked for this my whole life. For this to finally happen, it’s a dream come true,” O’Neill said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States