By Thomas Zinzarela ’21
For many college freshmen, winter break is about going on vacation or binge watching a new show on Netflix. However, for Jay O’Brien ’22, his winter break consisted of representing the United States and traveling to Canada to compete with some of the best under 20-year-old hockey players in the world.
The International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship, more commonly known as the ‘World Juniors,’ is an annual tournament between 10 countries that is rotated between each team. This year’s event was hosted in Vancouver, Canada where Finland was able to beat out the U.S. for the gold medal.
Playing for a national team for any sport at any level is truly a unique experience. O’Brien opened up about his experience, saying, “It was unbelievable, we had a really solid group, really good team, really good coaching staff…everybody checked their ego at the door and when you throw on that USA sweater you are playing for one thing and that is your country and the guys next to you. It was an unbelievable experience other than the fact that we came up short. I thought we gave it our all and had a really good tournament.”
Many hockey fans envision the thrills of USA Hockey through the lens of the Disney movie Miracle, with Mike Eruzione scoring the game winning goal against the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympic games in Lake Placid, New York.
Just as that Olympic game was emotional for many, O’Brien believed that it was an emotional tournament. “There were a lot of highs and lows throughout the tournament. You create new friendships that you will have forever…playing for your country is something very special and something I was fortunate to do a couple of times. It is emotional for sure, I know when I got home it was tough because I missed the group…”
For many, we will never have the opportunity to skate or represent our country and wear a jersey with the letters USA in red, white, and blue across our chest. “Something I will never forget,” O’Brien stated. “After you win and stand next to your brothers and they are playing the national anthem, it’s something special for sure.”
With the U.S. securing a silver medal this year, they have now received medals for the 4th year in a row including gold in 2017. This recent run is by far their most successful streak in the 41 years of the U.S. competing. Prior to the U.S. gold medal in 2004, the U.S. only collected three medals total since the inaugural tournament in 1977. Having collected nine medals since, with four of them being gold, it is safe to say that Junior Hockey in the U.S. is on the rise.
Just as O’Brien brought home another medal for Team USA, he will also try to help the Friars reach their 6th straight NCAA Tournament appearance and bring home some bigger hardware in the likes of a National Championship trophy.