Roanoke’s O’Connell Lays It All Out There

By Katrina Waugh
The Roanoke Times
November 4, 2003

ROANOKE, Va. – Tim O’Connell wasn’t planning to come back to Roanoke this season and he’s hoping he won’t have to stay, but that doesn’t mean he brings a part-timer’s attitude to the ice or the locker room.

A 6-foot-4, 210-pound defenseman, O’Connell has become a physical, emotional and “very vocal” leader for the Roanoke Express, according to head coach Tony MacAulay.

“That just means I’m a loudmouth,” O’Connell cracked. “I say what I think, I say how I feel.

“I speak up when I can.”

That can mean pointing out “little things we need to improve” or suggesting to a riled-up teammate that he calm down a bit. It can also mean a little hollering.

“Sometimes we have our little rants,” O’Connell admitted, quickly implicating teammates Rick Kowalsky, Joe Dusbabek and Duncan Dalmao. “We have a lot of guys who speak up. That’s what’s nice about our team. The guys who were here last year aren’t afraid to say what they think.

“It’s a pretty open dressing room. What’s said in there stays in there, so guys can say what they think.”

O’Connell speaks with his actions, too. Before Friday’s game, the defensemen had talked about taking more shots.

“Why not put it on net?” MacAulay said.

O’Connell took the idea to heart in the first period when he was dumping the puck into the Greensboro zone for a line change. Instead of sending the puck around the boards, he shot it at the net from the middle of the rink. It went in.

O’Connell had two goals and an assist in the 6-4 victory. He’s got four goals, including two power-play goals, and three assists in Roanoke’s first eight games, playing on both the power-play and penalty-kill units.

“I play with a lot of emotion,” he said. “Sometimes that’s not the best thing to do. I try and play with the most emotion I can.”

Harnessing that passion, letting it drive him without letting it drive him over a cliff, has been a challenge. A bad penalty can leave him on the sideline with his teammates taking up the slack.

“I’m pretty good about it now. I’ve kind of learned to control my temper,” O’Connell said. “I don’t like to put my team in a bad situation.”

He’s learned to listen to referees.

“What’s really good is the refs say, ‘Hey, enough,’ when they’ve had enough,” O’Connell said. “Then you’ve got to know to shut your mouth.”

O’Connell has nothing against the Star City, but after spending a third of last season with the Rochester Americans in the AHL, he was hoping to stick with the higher league this year. Rochester’s NHL affiliate, the Buffalo Sabres, filled its roster with defensemen, leaving O’Connell out in the cold.

O’Connell had kept in touch with MacAulay, who got him an invitation to camp with the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Camp went well for O’Connell, but when the Sound Tigers added an NHL defenseman to the roster, O’Connell was cut.

“It was good to go to camp so they could see how I play,” O’Connell said. He opted not to sign a two-way contract with Bridgeport so that he is free to play for any AHL team that wants him.

Meanwhile, he plans to work on drills to improve his quickness, a suggestion of the Bridgeport coaches, and play as hard as he can for the Express.

“When I’m down here, all I can do is keep playing well,” O’Connell said. “Then, when I get the call, play the way I can.”