Thursday, June 18, 2015

Reilly O'Connor's late game heroics lead Brooklin Redmen to 10-9 win over Oakville Rock

Austin Shanks and Reilly O'Connor were teammates with the Whitby
Warriors last year. Wednesday night they teamed up again to lead the
Brooklin Redmen to a win over the Oakville Rock. (Photo: Tim Prothero)
A year ago, Reilly O'Connor and Austin Shanks were teaming up to score 221 points for the Whitby Warriors. Wednesday night, they got together to lead the Brooklin Redmen to a thrilling 10-9 win over the Oakville Rock in Major Series Lacrosse action at the Iroquois Park Sports Centre in Whitby.

Shanks, in only his second game as a callup from the Warriors, became the Redmen's leading goal scorer by potting 5 goals and adding 2 assists. O'Connor was the late-game hero, though. He took a pass from Michael Teeter a few metres outside the crease with his back to the net and Glen Bryan covering him and fired a backhand whip shot past Steve Fryer with 17 seconds to play.

Mike Triolo won the ensuing faceoff, allowing the Redmen to call a timeout and set up to kill off the rest of the game clock. Graeme Hossack, the second-year defender who was excellent all night for Brooklin, took the ball at the Brooklin restraining line when play was blown in and sprinted behind his own net with Jason and Jeremy Noble in hot pursuit.

The Nobles eventually cornered Hossack and forced the ball loose with six ticks left on the clock, but John Lafontaine swooped in to scoop up the loosie and run out the rest of the time.

O'Connor said he wasn't thinking the game was over after his goal, not after what happened in Kitchener-Waterloo just last Sunday. He scored what looked like it would be a game-winning goal with 33 seconds to play in overtime to put the Redmen up 8-7 but Jordan Critch tied it back up with four seconds to play. “I was pretty fired up [Sunday] because I've been having trouble finding the net. But it went in and next thing I know they came down and scored,” O'Connor said. “So after today I wasn't so much living in the moment, I was already worrying about winning the next draw and getting a timeout and securing the win. We did that so it was a great effort. It was a full team win. It started with Zach Higgins in net and the defence was great—man down especially—and the offence, we buried the ball.”

The rookie forward was one of Brooklin's two protected players from this year's MSL draft. He's also the first player since John Grant Jr. to produce three straight 100-point seasons in the OLA Jr A league. But O'Connor has been a little slow to adapt to the senior level with just 6 points in his first five games this summer. That has changed dramatically as O'Connor has 2 goals and 3 assists in each of his last two games.

“I think it's obviously a huge adjustment coming to play from junior and now playing against professionals and grown men who are 30 pounds heavier,” O'Connor says. “I've kind of found my feet the last couple of games, I'm playing with more confidence. It's real easy when you're playing with guys like Shawn Williams who I think is one of the best ever. He's been a great mentor to me.”

One thing O'Connor has clearly been working on is playing a physical game, trying to back down defenders and sometimes putting a shoulder into the man checking him to create some separation. “I'm not the quickest guy in the world,” he says. “I like to do different things to keep my defender guessing. That's one thing I've tried to implement into my game and the summer's a great time to work on that. That's one of the things I've been focusing on.”

Hossack was quick to praise his young teammates, saying that Shanks is “one of the purest goal scorers I've ever played with. A junior but he's one of the best finishers in the world.”

Of Hossack, O'Connor noted that “Willy and a lot of the guys joke that he's a second goalie out there with the amount of shots he blocks. He just throws his body on the line for the team every single night. Those are the guys that win you the games and those are the true leaders and true great players and he's definitely one of them. It's a real treat to have a guy like him on the team.”