What young hockey player hasn’t dreamed of representing his country on the greatest stage of all, the Winter Olympics?
For Yardley native Brian O’Neill, that fantasy was already realized when he played for the USA team at the 2018 Pyeongchang, Korea Games.
Now, because the NHL has pulled out of the competition for the second straight time, he has been named to compete once again for the American squad at next month’s competition in Beijing, China.
USA Hockey announced its roster late Thursday afternoon and O’Neill was the only returning player from 2018 on it.
O’Neill, 33, currently is playing in his sixth season for Finland’s Jokerit professional team in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.
He had a brief, 22-game tryout with the NHL’s New Jersey Devils back in the 2015-16 season but when the year was over, he opted to play in Europe and has stayed there ever since.
O’Neill posted one goal/four points with a plus-3 with the American team at Korea in ’18. The USA team finished seventh, the second consecutive Olympics in which they failed to medal.
Back in 2014 at the Sochi Games in Russia, the USA team finished fourth. The last American medal was a silver it achieved after losing the championship game in 2010 at Vancouver in overtime to Canada.
USA head coach David Quinn believes his team has a good mix of young talent and some veterans, such as O’Neill, on it.
“We all had to change gears in December when the NHL announced it wasn’t going,’’ Quinn said during an interview on ESPN2. “But USA Hockey and general manager John Vanbiesbrouck and I were talking and we had to change gears. We feel very confident with the group we have chosen. We’re excited about the mix. I think it will be a great blend of youth and experience. USA Hockey has never had a deeper player pool.’’
USA believes it has a chance to end its medal drought. The team includes 15 current NCAA players, eight European pros and two players from the AHL.
“We’re excited about the roster we’ve put together,” said Vanbiesbrouck, both GM and also the assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey. “The Olympics are the biggest stage in sports and it was fun to hear the enthusiasm our players have to represent their country. We’re fortunate to have a deep talent pool — thanks in part to all the great work of our volunteers in communities across the nation — and with the mix of players who are part of our team, we’re looking forward to competing for a gold medal in Beijing.”
O’Neill is one of five players from the KHL on the U.S. roster,
His adult hockey career began at Yale University, where he played all four years of his eligibility. In 138 games, he registered 69 goals/163 points.
During his tenure with the Bulldogs, he was not drafted by an NHL team, so on March 15, 2012 he signed a one-year free agent contract with Los Angeles and was assigned to what was then the Kings’ AHL team, the Manchester (New Hampshire) Monarchs.
O’Neill spent four seasons with the Monarchs, playing 192 games with 52 goals/144 points. His breakthrough year came in 2014-15 when his 22 goals/80 points finished among the league leaders and won him the Les Cunningham Award as AHL MVP.
That same year, O’Neill compiled 10 goals/20 points in 30 games in the playoffs as the Monarchs won the AHL’s Calder Cup.
Following the brief stint with the Devils, O’Neill headed for Finland where he has been a steady performer. He has played 311 games with 83 goals/268 points. This year he has played 41 games, with nine goals and 42 points, good for third in the KHL.
“I love playing in the KHL, it’s a lot of fun,’’ said O’Neill, whose parents still reside in Langhorne. “It’s been a really good experience, both on and off the ice. I’ve gotten to travel the world. As long as I stay healthy and continue to enjoy the game, I would like to play another two or three years.’’