University of Maine freshman defenseman Will O’Neill admits he was a Boston University hockey fan when he was a youngster.
But why wouldn’t he be?
His father, Bill, was a junior defenseman on the 1977-78 Terrier team that went 30-2 and won the NCAA championship.
Bill O’Neill, who is in his 28th season as the hockey coach at Salem State College (Mass.), played in 97 games at BU and had seven goals and 52 assists.
O’Neill and the Black Bears will visit Agganis Arena tonight for a 7 o’clock Hockey East showdown with the nation’s No. 2-ranked Terriers. It is the 100th game between the two rivals.
“I was a BU fan my whole life until I got old enough to realize that there are other teams,” said the younger O’Neill. “Maine is a great place … all the national titles, national attention and national appearances in the [NCAA] tournament and everything. Obviously, it’s still going to be fun to go there.”
“I pretty much grew up in Walter Brown [Arena, BU’s former rink],” O’Neill added. “Obviously, I’ve been to Agganis [Arena] and stuff like that. I’ll have a lot of family there and stuff, so it will be fun. But it’s just another Hockey East game. Two points are on the line. So I’ll just go after it like I do for every game.”
“It’s going to be big for Will, going down to his father’s alma mater,” said Maine senior defenseman and co-captain Simon Danis-Pepin, who will return to the lineup after missing three games with a sprained ankle. “We’re all going to give it [our all] for him and for the rest of the team. We need this win.”
“I think he’s going to be pretty pumped up,” said senior center Chris Hahn. “Hopefully, he’ll have a good night.”
Salem, Mass., native O’Neill said his father has relayed stories about his days at Boston University.
“He has told me what it meant for him to play there. It’s the same thing it means for me to play here,” said O’Neill.
O’Neill has had an impressive freshman season so far.
He is Maine’s fifth-leading scorer and top-scoring defenseman with nine points on two goals and seven assists in 17 games. He plays on one of Maine’s two power-play units and also kills penalties.
“I’ve been very pleased with Will’s development this year,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “He brings so much energy and passion for the game along with natural toughness.
“And he can make plays, too. Right now, he’s focused on playing as clean defensively as he can and continuing to contribute on offense.”
“Will has been a tremendous addition to our team,” said Danis-Pepin. “He has been putting up points and playing well defensively.”
O’Neill is appreciative of the playing time he has received, especially on the power play.
“I’ve been fortunate to get an opportunity on the power play. I’ve been playing with some good players, so I’m just trying to shoot pucks on net so [his teammates] can bury some rebounds,” said O’Neill. “I’ve had a good opportunity and, so far, I’ve done a pretty good job.
“But, obviously, I want to keep going.”
He said he intends to work on all facets of his game.
“I want to play solid defense and work from there into the offensive game. Try to contribute in all aspects of the game,” he said.
O’Neill knows the Bears will have their hands full with the high-scoring Terriers.
“We’ve got to stay out of the penalty box and play solid defense like we had been,” said O’Neill. “We’ve got to battle and grind.”