Hockey is a family tradition for Loyola senior Eamon O’Brien. A Wilmette native and graduate of St. Francis Xavier, O’Brien was introduced to hockey by his father, Tim O’Brien (Class of 1984), a former Loyola player. Eamon is one of four siblings to skate for the Ramblers. His sister, Abigail O’Brien (Class of 2017), won a state title in 2016. Tim, an enthusiastic supporter of the program, died Jan. 13. A three-year veteran on the Gold team, Eamon was named the Amateur Hockey Association Illinois’ JJ O’Connor Male High School Player of the Year. He’s the first Rambler to earn the honor since 2014 when Cal Callahan (Class of 2014) won it. O’Brien and the Ramblers play in the championship game of the Scholastic Hockey League tournament Sunday against New Trier Green at North Shore Ice Arena in Northbrook. He was a first team all-conference selection. Loyola also is in the quarterfinals of the AHAI state tournament. The defending state champion Ramblers play St. Rita on Tuesday at The Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville. The semifinals are March 11 at The Edge and the final is March 22 at the United Center in Chicago.
MAROON & GOLD: You’re right in the thick of the postseason. What’s it like playing as the defending state champions?
EAMON O’BRIEN: When the season started, the coaches talked about the pressure we will have on us. But it’s a good pressure. We are striving to repeat, and we are using the pressure as motivation to win it again.
M&G: How’s team looking right now?
EO: I think we are playing pretty well, but we are not satisfied. We have a lot left to accomplish.
M&G: What’s the scouting report on Gold?
EO: We are a very fast team. If we are winning games, we are scoring a lot of goals. We are the most effective when we use our speed. Sometimes, we don’t do that.
M&G: You are one of six seniors — along with Declan Darcy, Aidan Finegan, Jake Gonzalez, Nick Liebers and Cooper Prawdzik — who have played together on Gold since sophomore year. How important is that chemistry?
EO: It’s so nice. We are all very close. I don’t know what it would be like to play without them. We have a connection. We know exactly what each other is going to do out there.
M&G: Did you expect to be named the state’s player of the year? Was it a goal of yours?
EO: It definitely wasn’t something I thought about or thought I could win, but it’s a great honor. There are a ton of great players in the state, and it could have gone to any one of them.
M&G: You told me you first put on skates when you were 1 years old. What do you like about hockey?
EO: The competitiveness of it, the super fast pace of it, the physicality.
M&G: I’m from Georgia, so I don’t know much about hockey, other than it looks incredibly difficult to play. Is that true?
EO: No hockey player will ever tell you it’s hard. But it does take a lot of practice. The first thing is you have to learn to skate well. It’s not a sport you can pick up one day and go play the next.
M&G: What sport seems the most challenging to you?
EO: Baseball. I’m awful at it. I think hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do.
M&G: Other than your family and friends, what’s something people might not know about you?
EO: I like to play golf. I haven’t done it the last two summers because I’ve been hurt, but I plan to play a lot this summer. I can hit the ball pretty far, but once I get around the green, it’s not that much fun for me.
M&G: Last year’s state title was the program’s first since 1996. Describe the feeling of winning it all.
EO: A dream. I come from a hockey family. My dad played, my brothers and sisters played, my uncles played, my cousins played. When we won, I felt like my whole family won.
M&G: Your dad passed away earlier this year. How influential was he and continues to be in your life?
EO: Hugely. He’s Loyola’s biggest hockey fan. Loved it, never missed a game. Everybody on the team felt it when he died. I think about him all the time and before games, especially games against New Trier. He loved those. We are wearing a clover patch on our jersey for him. It’s very important to me to carry on his memory.