Thursday, October 23, 2014

Top Maryland Prospect Jason O'Neill Commits to UNH

17-Year-Old Forward
Jason O'Neill Commits to UNH

The ties between UNH hockey and the hockey community surrounding our nation's capital date back to NHL Hall of Famer Rod Langway. After playing linebacker for the UNH football team and defenseman for the hockey team, Langway left UNH following his sophomore year to play professional hockey. Langway played four years with the Montreal Canadians including the 1977-78 Stanley Cup winners. But it was his trade to the fledgling and hapless Washington Capitals in 1982 that lead to his emergence as an NHL star.

Before Langway came to D.C., the Capitals - an expansion team founded in 1974 - had struggled to win games and were on the verge of leaving town. Langway was named to the NHL All-Star team in his first season with the Caps and the team made the NHL Playoffs each of the 11 seasons Langway played for them.

Back then, the Capitals' actual home was the Capital Centre (demolished in 2002) located east of the DC Beltway in the suburb of Landover, Maryland. As the team took root and thrived throughout the 1980's and 90's, numerous ice arenas sprang up just south of the Mason-Dixon Line and athletic kids in suburban Maryland and Virginia took up the game of hockey. That's where Jason O'Neill, UNH's newest recruit, learned to skate and hone his skills.

Jason O'Neill (DOB: 3-23-1997), a native of Odenton, MD, played Pee Wee and Bantam hockey for Team Maryland, based at the Rockville Ice Arena and The Gardens Ice House (Laurel, MD). As a 15-year-old, O'Neill played for the 2012-13 Washington Little Caps U-16 which plays out of the Kettler Capitals Iceplex, the Washington Capitals' practice arena in Arlington, Virginia. O'Neill scored 10 goals and 15 assists in 39 games. In a review of the 2013 Tier 1 AAA Playoffs, Chris Dilks of SB Nation wrote that O'Neill has "good hands and moves the puck quickly".

Skipjacks Hockey Club's Jason O'Neill
The breakout season in Jason O'Neill's young career came last year with the Skipjacks Hockey Club 16U team. In the inaugural season of the United States Premier Hockey League, O'Neill was the second leading scorer in the 16U Division. In 29 regular season games, O'Neill scored at a goal-a-game clip (27 goals) and added 49 assists. Midseason, O'Neill was named to the 16U All-Star Team. The Skipjacks lost to eventual USPHL 16U champions Selects Academy in the Playoff Quarterfinals. 2016 UNH Recruits Joey Cipollone and Jake Ryczek were top scorers on the Selects 16U team. O'Neill had 2 goals for the Skipjacks in 2 playoff games.

In a postseason wrap up prepared by for last May, Jason O'Neill was identified as the #1 Player in the USPHL 16U Division. They wrote:
"O'Neill gets the top ranking due to the fact that he not only posted 78 points for the Skipjacks U16 team, but O'Neill was also able to score at the U18 level. In 13 games, the Maryland native had 2 goals and 3 assists while collecting 14 penalty minutes. He was big among U16 players at 5'11", 165 pounds and will catch your eye with off the charts skill. He has a natural stride and makes the game look easy. One can only assume an NCAA commitment is in the near future for O'Neill."
This season, the 6'0", 175 lbs. O'Neill is playing full-time for the Skipjacks Hockey Club 18U team. He is currently tied for 7th in scoring in the league with 5 goals and 6 assists in 8 games.

Since Jason O'Neill joined the Skipjacks last season, he has been coached by Jason Kersner, one of the top midget-level coaches in the country. Coach Kersner represents another strong connection between the greater D.C. hockey community and UNH. Jason Kersner has coached a succession of UNH hockey players during their formative years. Defenseman Jamie Fritsch (UNH, 2005-09) played for Coach Kersner on the Washington Little Caps. Fritsch's hometown is Odenton, MD, same as Jason O'Neill. Nick Sorkin (Rockville, MD) was coached by Kersner on the Team Maryland U16 and Midget Major teams. Sorkin was the first Maryland native to commit to an NCAA Division I hockey program directly from a Maryland-based developmental organization.

Current UNH Alternate Captain Casey Thrush (Easton, MD) and Sorkin were teammates on Coach Kersner's Team Maryland U18 squad. In their first NHL draft eligible year, NHL Central Scouting Service ranked Thrush the #89 North American Skater and Sorkin was ranked #169.

UNH junior Maxim Gaudreault (Annapolis, MD) was teammates with Casey Thrush on Team Maryland U18 when he also committed to UNH. Sophomore UNH defenseman Dylan Maller (Parkland, FL) also played for Coach Jason Kersner. Though he wasn't a native of Maryland, Maller moved to play for Kersner and the DC Capitals U18 team. When Maller committed to UNH, Coach Kersner told U.S. Hockey Report "Don’t beat me up in the article. We’ll have kids going other places!”

Jason O'Neill becomes the latest player coached by Jason Kersner to commit to UNH. However, UNH has not cornered the market on top players who've played for Kersner. Jason Kersner has coached a number of players committed to Division I programs including Jason O'Neill's older brother Colin (UMass-Lowell commit), Christian Meike (Michigan) and Ryan Finnegan (Quinnipiac).

I had an opportunity to interview Jason, via email, about his background, commitment to UNH, and future plans:

Mike Lowry ("C-H-C"): Congratulations on your commitment to play for the University of New Hampshire. What are the main reasons you chose UNH?
Jason O'Neill: I was really excited when UNH offered and it was kind of an easy choice for me. I went to a hockey camp there when I was a Bantam Minor and I’ve really always wanted to go to school at UNH ever since then. I really liked the campus and the chance to play for a team that regularly competes for a Hockey East and National Championship is a dream come true.
I felt really comfortable with the coaching staff and the style of hockey they play at UNH. I thought the style and the big rink was a really good fit for my game. It also helped that a lot of older players I know have played there and all really enjoyed their time, so it just felt right for me.

Mike Lowry: What other college programs were you considering?
Jason O'Neill: UMASS-Lowell was another school that I had talked to quite a bit and had a lot of interest in. My older brother Colin, who plays for the Aberdeen Wings in the NAHL is committed to Lowell. Lowell has had some great success the last few years and it would have been fun to play there with my brother, but I just felt that UNH was a better fit for me personally. So, I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to play against Lowell and my brother in the future!

Lowry: Have you and the UNH coaches agreed on a target date for you to enroll as a freshman at UNH and join the team?
J. O'Neill: I'll either come to UNH in 2017 or 2018.

Lowry: Last season with the Skipjacks Hockey Club, you were an USPHL 16U All-Star and so far this season, you're tied for 7th in USPHL 18U scoring. At this stage in your hockey development, what are the strengths of your game? What areas are you trying to improve?
J. O'Neill: I think my strengths as a player are my skating, my vision and playmaking ability. I’ve had a couple of really good offensive seasons and looking forward to continuing to help my team win a championship this year. I think I’m a smart player and I can play in all situations.
I’m really trying to improve and become stronger. I’m really continuing to work on my habits and trying to become more of a professional on and off the ice.

Lowry: Several current and former UNH players- Jamie Fritsch, Nick Sorkin, Casey Thrush, Maxim Gaudreault, and Dylan Maller - have played for Coach Jason Kersner with the Washington Little Caps and/or Team Maryland. Is your style of play similar to any of these players?
J. O'Neill: We don’t get a chance to see many games because of our own hockey schedule, but I have had a chance to skate and train with these guys every summer. I think I’m different and don’t really play like any of those older guys. But I definitely try to emulate them. I want to continue to improve and be a blend of all of them. I think if I had the hands/offensive skill of Nick, the skating and compete level of Casey, and the vision and Hockey IQ of Maxim I would be a great player!

Lowry: You've played for Coach Kersner over the last two seasons. What's the most important thing you've learned from him?
J. O'Neill: I’ve definitely learned a lot from Coach Kersner on and off the ice. In addition to all of the on-ice stuff, I think the things I’ve really learned the most about are being a professional. Professionalism is what our program is all about and it is talked about every day. We spend a lot of time talking about the Mind, we read books, and we even have a Peak Performance Coach that we work with.
I’ve learned a lot about Preparation. Developing daily routines and developing good habits every day in practice has been huge. I’ve learned a lot about goal setting and having a plan to achieve those goals. I’ve learned that the process is more important than the outcome and because of what I’ve learned from him, I compete against myself to improve everyday.

Lowry: Do you anticipate playing junior hockey before coming to UNH? If so, what leagues would you consider playing in?
J. O'Neill: I will definitely be playing Juniors for a few years before coming to UNH. I would really be interested in playing in either the USHL or the BCHL.

Lowry: When do you plan on graduating from high school? What are your academic strengths?
J. O'Neill: I’m a senior so will graduate this year, 2015. I’m a good student and work hard at it. I have a 4.0 GPA. I’m not yet sure what I’m interested in studying when I get to UNH.


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