O’Brien returned to the Augusta RiverHawks this season after completing a circle that led the goalie to two teams each in the SPHL and CHL, and one each in the ECHL and AHL last year. After seven games with the RiverHawks in 2011, he returned to James Brown Arena against the Fayetteville FireAntz on Nov. 2 and stopped all four shots against him in relief of Robert Moss.
For a player with so many miles in so little time, the shifting of locker rooms has been OK with O’Brien.
“If anything, it makes it easier,” he said. “It means teams want you. You can’t ask for more than that.”
Augusta traded O’Brien to Louisiana after seven games in 2011. It was met with criticism after O’Brien’s six-start stretch included five wins with a .920 save percentage.
Along with Louisiana, O’Brien found himself playing in various leagues that ranged from Chicago to Greenville, S.C.
“People were not happy when I was traded,” he said. “But I’ve been welcomed back with open arms, and it’s great to be back. I’m happy to take the reins. It was tough to leave.”
O’Brien has taken control of the RiverHawks both on the ice and in the locker room. He has 65 saves at a .903 save percentage in 144 minutes, almost matching his .904 percentage in 18 games for Louisiana last season.
After a 4-1 loss to Fayetteville, O’Brien found himself in the lineup and given control of the net full time on Nov. 3.
He saved 31 of 34 shots against Knoxville in an overtime loss, providing a bright spot for a team struggling to find one through a 0-4-1 start.
“He gives us a chance to win every game,” coach/director of hockey operations Rob Miller said. “That’s what I want out of a goaltender. He’s a good guy. I’m happy with the way he’s played.”
His college résumé provided an indication of the type of goalie O’Brien could be in the professional ranks. He led St. Norbert to the 2011 Division III Championship and was named Northern Collegiate Hockey Association Player of the Year, as well as a first-team All-American as a senior.
“He’s a really good goalie,” RiverHawks alternate captain Matt Auffrey said. “He’s real simple. He’s not flashy, flopping around and all that. He doesn’t have to, because he’s in position. We’re very happy to have him.”