It’s Friday so we have another GOJHL player profile from league historian Scott Holland.  We will get to meet the player who finished second in team scoring last year in Pelham and presently leads the Strathroy Rockets in scoring, Whitby’s Riley O’Connell

A Look At: Riley O’Connell, Strathroy Rockets – by C. Scott Holland

One of the hardest things for any junior player is being a rookie on a team, and more so, when one is in their final season of eligibility. But Strathroy Rockets’ forward Riley O’Connell is making the best of that situation.

The 180 lbs., 5’11” forward has already made an impact as he leads the Rockets in points and goals scored with 10 and 7 respectfully after 10 games.

His journey through junior hockey has had its ups and downs while allowing him to learn some lessons in life at a young age.

His toughest battle occurred last February, while playing for the Pelham Pirates. Riley had to deal with the death of his father. As the Whitby, Ont. native explains, “My family (mother, older brother and older sister) have become stronger – very close-knit since my father’s death.”

Despite the loss 20-year-old Riley has made adjustments quite well. Since his father is no longer physically present during and post-game, Riley carries his father’s spirit with him. He wears his father’s wedding ring attached to a necklace around his neck during every game. Such a tribute serves as both a reminder and an incentive. Now his siblings and mother often push him to become a better player and critique his game like his father did.

Riley was groomed as a defenseman until he reached major midget when he decided to become a forward. He played Jr. C for the Clarington Eagles and then made the Pelham Jr. B squad last season.

Coming to Strathroy in the off-season seemed like a good move to him. His best friend from midget hockey was Rocket goaltender Mat Ouellet who urged him to get to Strathroy.

He says, “I love it here in Strathroy. The Rockets welcomed me with open arms and I like Strathroy’s country vibe. Sometimes I feel like I’m a hockey celebrity with kids running all around me and thinking I’m famous.”

Being an assistant captain with the Rockets is “an honour and I’m enjoying being a leader, keeping our players in line. With our youthful team, I’ve got much more responsibility. I’ve been helping the younger players learn and get better; often I give them advice.”

As for how he plays the game, he states, “I tend to see the ice well, trust my shots and know that I could improve my skating.”

Riley has a very quick release and a deadly wrist shot.

In five years he has visions of still playing hockey and being at school. He’s hoping his hockey skills will lead to a “U.S. school, perhaps a Division III one and an education courtesy of hockey.”

Life is full of valuable lessons and so far it appears that Riley O’Connell has lived and learned many of those lessons well.

Photo credit:  Colleen Wiendels Photography

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