Defenseman Tom O'Connor is only 24 but already has reached a crossroad in his career.
Without question, the third-year pro has many productive years ahead of him, and there are no doubts in the minds of the Augusta Lynx that O'Connor has all the tools to be an all-star on the blueline.
But in the grand scheme of things, hockey is only a small part of his existence. And two days into his first training camp with the Lynx, O'Connor finds himself grappling with one of the most difficult decisions of his life.
"I've got a wife and little daughter to think about now, and I'm at the point where (retiring) is a possibility," said O'Connor, an ECHL all-star as a rookie with the Wheeling Nailers in 1998-99. "I'm also pretty excited about coming down here and seeing what Augusta Lynx hockey is all about. So far, I'm very impressed with the organization. It's a difficult decision."
No doubt Lynx coach Scott MacPherson will do all that he can to sell O'Connor and his wife, Cara, on life in Augusta. MacPherson is counting heavily on the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder, whom he recruited six years ago to play at UMass-Amherst, and whom he again recruited over the summer when he was hired by the Lynx.
O'Connor already has been a standout during the first two days of training camp. He looked especially smooth in Monday night's scrimmage, skating alongside veteran Denis Chervyakov in a potential all-star defensive pairing.
"Tommy will be a dominant defenseman in this league," said MacPherson, who spent six seasons as an assistant coach at UMass-Amherst. "Right now it's a matter of making sure he's comfortable and his family is comfortable. He was telling me earlier that he needs to lose 10 pounds and is going to get himself in top shape. Hopefully, that's a pretty good sign."
For O'Connor, the ultimate sign will come from his family. His 5-year-old daughter is back home in Springfield, Mass., where she attends kindergarten, and O'Connor and his wife are worried about uprooting her.
"I think my wife is excited about coming here, but we just want to make sure we can get our little girl into a good school and make sure they're safe when I'm on the road," O'Connor said. "We just want the transition for our daughter to be as easy as possible."
While he says money is not an issue as far as his Lynx contract is concerned, O'Connor also said he is taking into consideration his family's financial future. He has taken a considerable pay cut to play for the Lynx after spending most of last season with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Pittsburgh Penguins' top farm club in the American Hockey League. In the AHL, salaries are significantly higher than in the ECHL.
"I made pretty good money last year, so it's a bit of a concern when you have a family and you're all of a sudden making a lot less," O'Connor said. "I've got to look at all the options and at all facets of the problem. Fortunately, coach MacPherson has been helping me out a lot and has been very supportive in looking out for my best interest."
"Obviously, we want Tommy playing for us, and I feel pretty confident he will," MacPherson said. "He's going to be a huge part of our hockey club. But he has to take care of his family first."
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