Beating the Odds

It’s every hockey players dream to play professional hockey, but to play professional hockey in your hometown with your childhood best friend is incredibly unlikely. Newfoundland Growlers forwards, and St. John’s natives, Zach O’Brien and Marcus Power have beaten the odds, and have reunited in the ECHL after taking very different routes.

Originally drafted by the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL, O’Brien chose to remain home in St. John’s until he completed high school before making the jump to the major junior ranks. After completing high school, O’Brien played three years with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, who acquired him via trade, putting up 260 points in 192 games. Despite scoring 127 goals, the 5’11” St. John’s native was never drafted in the NHL, but was invited to San Jose Sharks rookie camp in 2010.

Since turning pro in 2013, hockey has taken O’Brien across the globe. He’s had stints in the AHL with Manchester, Chicago, Binghamton and Bakersfield, and won a Calder Cup in 2015 with the Manchester Monarchs. He decided to make the trek overseas to start the 2016-17 season, playing 20 games with the Ravensburg Towerstars in Germany’s second level of professional hockey, before joining the Wichita Thunder of the ECHL where he played parts of the previous two seasons.

Now at home with the Growlers, O’Brien was named an assistant captain, and is a leader on and off the ice.

“I’m one of the older guys on the team, but I’m only 26. I just try and help the guys and if they need anything – a ride somewhere, little things like that”, O’Brien said. “I just want to make them feel as comfortable as possible here”.

Power, a sixth-round pick of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL in 2010, played three seasons there recording 194 points in 204 games, having notable teammates like Tampa Bay Lightning star Nikita Kucherov and former St. John’s IceCaps forward and current Colorado Avalanche player Sven Andrighetto. Despite putting up 109 points in his final QMJHL season, Power didn’t attract any NHL attention, but did have a minor-league offer in the Colorado Avalanche system, which he backed out of.

Most players fresh out of junior hockey are itching to turn pro, but Power says it was the right decision at the time.

“I signed a two-way AHL deal with them (Colorado), and then once they sent me to the East Coast I thought at that point in my life, being 21, it was smarter to go to school and get an education”, he explained. “I thought I could follow my pro hockey dreams afterwards, and here we are”.

With 17 points through 22 games with the Growlers, Power is showing he’s having no trouble adapting to the life of professional hockey.

“It’s definitely a transition coming from school playing 30 games a season, to now playing a 72-game season, but I’m really fortunate and grateful to be able to have my first pro year in St. John’s”.

The pair of forwards are teammates again for the first time since the 2009-10 Newfoundland Major Midget Hockey League (NLMMHL) season, where they suited up for the St. John’s Fog Devils. O’Brien potted an astonishing 62 goals in 23 games, while Power had 40 points in 22 games. The Midget Fog Devils had a surprise third place finish in the Telus Cup that season, and O’Brien led the tournament in scoring with 11 goals and six assists in seven games in a tournament that featured future NHL stars like Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Reilly.

While O’Brien admits that was a special season, their friendship started long before the Major Midget days.

“We played together in midget as line mates, and we did pretty well together”, O’Brien recalls. “But our friendship goes way back past that. We went to school together and were best friends all growing up and still to this day”.

In the summertime, the two were part of a very successful Play On street hockey team, but those days have come to an end.

“I think we might be retired now from the street hockey”, O’Brien said laughing. “We’re getting a bit old for that. It’s just something we used to do in the summers with our best buddies for a weekend, and we happened to win six or seven tournaments in a row”.

Playing professional hockey together was only a dream for O’Brien and Power growing up, and it couldn’t have happened at a better place than in St. John’s where it all started.

“We’ve been best friends for 10 or 15 years now”, O’Brien said smiling. “We always talked about it (playing professional hockey together), but the chances of that happening were pretty slim. We’re definitely happy to be playing together again”.