It can be tough for rookies to make an impact in their first season in the WHL.
Defenseman Brendan O’Reilly came into Americans’ camp last season with the mindset of being a contributor for the team right away.
“First impressions are everything so I made it my main goal to come in and make a good first impression,” O’Reilly said. “Overall, the main goal was to make the team and be a contributor.”
After going through the camp process and making the team, Brendan knew the real work was about to begin.
“I aspired to move my way up the D-corps and contribute to the team’s success,” O’Reilly said. “It was a relief and a huge stepping stone but overall, I still had more goals to accomplish.”
O’Reilly played in six preseason games, tallying an assist, a +2 rating and six penalty minutes. It took Brendan some time to adjust to the speed of the WHL.
“The speed and the physicality of the game is a pretty tough roadblock to overcome,” O’Reilly said. “With the help of our coaches, they ease all of the rookies in, help us acclimate really well, so it was a smooth transition.”
The 17-year-old from Southlake, Texas, made his regular season WHL debut on the road against the Moose Jaw Warriors on Oct. 4.
“I was really eager to play since I didn’t play the first few weeks,” O’Reilly said. “There was a little bit of nerves and anxiousness going into the game, but I tried to stay as calm as possible and play my game. I felt that I played pretty well that game.”
Tri-City lost the game in Moose Jaw, 5-0. O’Reilly played in his second game three days later and helped the team earn a 4-1 win against the Prince Albert Raiders.
On Oct. 18, he played in his first game at the Toyota Center, a huge game against the top team in the league, Kelowna Rockets. The Ams picked up a big 5-2 win, with O’Reilly earning a +1 rating during the game.
Fast forward a couple months to Dec. 28, with the Americans hosting the Everett Silvertips. O’Reilly notched his first WHL point, an assist on a goal from Parker Wotherspoon.
“It was a huge relief, it was a huge weight off my shoulders,” O’Reilly said.
A couple months later, O’Reilly scored his first career WHL goal. In Everett on Feb. 11, Brendan skated to the front of the net and a rebound deflected right to him, burying a shot to get the Americans on the board.
“That was a pretty surreal feeling,” O’Reilly said. “It was overdue and it was a huge relief to get the first one out of the way.”
At the end of the season, Brendan played during big moments in key games. While intense, the experience was valuable for O’Reilly.
“You’re mistakes matter because they will capitalize on any mistake you make,” O’Reilly said. “You know the other team you’re playing against really well. You just have to play your game and do what you’re good at.”
O’Reilly played in the two home playoff games, and said the WHL Playoffs are on a whole different level.
“There is a pretty big difference between the speed of regular season play and playoffs because of the desperation you have to play with,” O’Reilly said. “I had nerves going into them after watching the first two games. The two home games were really awesome.”
Brendan collected a goal, two assists and 29 penalty minutes in 45 regular season games in 2014-15.
When asked what kind of defenseman he classifies himself as, O’Reilly said he is more of a defensive defenseman.
“I take care of my responsibilities in the defensive end first,” O’Reilly said. “I try to add more of an offensive mindset by jumping into the play, making good plays at the blueline. My goal is to be an all-around defenseman.”
O’Reilly explained he felt he had the best defensive chemistry with Riley Hillis because of their similar play styles.
At the beginning of May, the O’Reilly family received some nice news, as Brendan’s younger brother, Ryan, was drafted in the fifth round, 109th overall by the Americans in the 2015 Bantam Draft. Brendan said his brother and he have always played on the same team, and it doesn’t look like that will change.
“It was cool to see that he may get the opportunity to play with me,” O’Reilly said. “It’s always good to be able to play with your brother.”
In mid-July, Brendan received the opportunity of a lifetime, participating in Dallas Stars Development Camp.
“Getting the invite to Stars camp was surreal,” O’Reilly speaking about the . “I was really excited to go to that camp, I’ve grown up idolizing the whole program. Getting the opportunity to throw on a Dallas Stars jersey, I was absolutely speechless throughout the whole camp.
During the offseason, O’Reilly has been working hard in the gym, putting on 20 pounds to add to his 6’4 frame. He has also been getting on the ice and working on his skating.
“I’m coming into camp this season a lot more mature and a lot stronger physically,” O’Reilly said. “I’ve put a huge emphasis on gaining weight and getting my first few steps a lot quicker.”
Throughout his time in the Tri-Cities, O’Reilly had a lot of praise for the fans and hockey community.
“Tri-Cities is a great hockey community,” O’Reilly said. “The fans are awesome, coaches are top notch, and our training staff is awesome. Overall, it’s been an absolute honor to be able to play in Tri-City.”
With camp less than a month away, Brendan has some goals he is hoping to accomplish.
“Definitely coming to camp and making a statement physically and showing all the hard work I’ve put in this summer,” O’Reilly said.
O’Reilly, like many of his teammates, believes this team can achieve great things this season.
“Every team’s goal is to win a Memorial Cup, but we definitely have to take it one game at a time and work our way towards a league championship,” O’Reilly said. “I think we can do it, we have the team to do it. We just need to come together and play as one.”