Jake Stripp has coached many outstanding young men during his many years behind the bench, but there are a few who stand out. One of those players is Shea O’Brien, a senior captain on this year’s Skyline hockey team who is “special” both on and off the ice.
“Yes, he’s a very special young man,” says Stripp. “He is without a doubt one of my favorite players I have ever coached in 12 years of high school hockey. He is incredibly bright, while having a drive and determination to succeed in literally anything he does. He is one of the most competitive kids I have ever met, while being incredibly wise and compassionate.”
O’Brien, 17, has a 3.9 grade-point average and is a candidate to attend West Point and the Naval Academy after high school. He also plays baseball for Skyline. But right now, his focus, attention and stick are all on the ice as he hopes to end his Skyline hockey career going where no Eagle has gone before.
“We have eight seniors coming back, and only three guys moved on from last year’s roster,” says O’Brien. “This group has a talent level like no team I’ve ever been a part of, and we have the potential for a massive season this year.
“With all that comes expectations: a responsibility to our community and to each other to go out and win big hockey games. We’ve played the role of underdog my whole career in our conference and our region. We’ve earned some credit and now is our chance to go seal the deal. We’re a young school and we’re creating a winning tradition every time we step on the ice. We want that first conference championship in program history and we want that first regional title.”
Some big goals for a team thinking big in 2020. But right now, it’s one shift, one period, one game.
“We’ve been given some credit going into this year, and people are expecting a lot from us the year, and we have these big goals, but we’ve got to keep our heads down and just win the next battle,” O’Brien says.
Skyline went 16-8 last year despite some adversity. “Last year started off with a massive hit,” says O’Brien, who was given the SEC Sportsmanship Award last year. “Our captain was deemed ineligible for the year a few weeks into the season. He was such a talented player and so much of our offense revolved around his abilities to control the play. We were a better team with him on the ice, but we had to come together and fill some new roles to keep the team on the right track.”
O’Brien says the Eagles were a few small steps from where they needed to be last season: “Two games short of the conference title and a 3-1 loss in the second round of the playoffs.”
This year they plan on taking those needed steps forward – and maybe even a few more.
O’Brien was named one of the team’s captains before the season. Being the captain on a hockey team is a pretty big deal and the senior says he was humbled by the honor.
“This hockey team means everything to me and getting an opportunity to lead is big responsibility,” says O’Brien, who is one of those captains who likes to lead by example. “Thankfully, my other captains (Isaac Lippert, Ryan Schmunk and Henry Hescheles) see their role in the same way and approach it with the same intensity. They have all the right priorities off the ice and are incredibly committed to putting this team in a position to succeed.
“With such a great core of leaders it makes my job so much easier. I’m a grinder on this team and my role comes from hard forechecks and laying the body in the offensive zone.”
Hockey a family tradition for the O’Briens. His father’s whole family grew up playing hockey back east in Massachusetts and today playing hockey is a staple of the O’Brien family.
“My dad had the opportunity to play collegiately at Notre Dame and his love for the game roped me and my siblings in before kindergarten,” he says.
Shea grew up playing for the 2001 Ann Arbor Wolves with Lippert, Hescheles, and Schmunk but stopped when he reached high school. This is his third year on varsity – and hopefully his best.
“We want to win the Jilik, win the conference and win the region,” O’Brien says. “We’ve got scorers, playmakers and grinders and we’re all here to win hockey games. Personally, I’m trying to stay out of the box this season. But as far as individual awards go I can worry about it after my hockey career is over this spring.”
While he goes on to bigger and better things in life, he will always cherish his time playing hockey for the Skyline Eagles.
“There’s a sense of pride that comes with playing for your town and school, something you don’t get on the road playing travel,” he says. “Having to block out the noise from an opposing team’s student section or getting to celebrate a big win with your own is part of the magic of high school hockey.”