His first shift probably won’t be remembered years down the line, mainly because it lasted a whole four seconds. But Thursday night, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Will O’Neill finally made his NHL debut.
The 29-year-old O’Neill stepped onto the ice at Scottrade Center in St. Louis 4,198 days after his name was called in the seventh round of the 2006 Draft by the Atlanta Thrashers. (Six rounds earlier they selected Bryan Little 12th overall.) When he hopped over the boards early in the first period of the Flyers’ 2-0 win, he was quickly back on the bench after a Dale Weise penalty ended his first shift after four seconds.
But he would hit the ice 11 more times and play 9:25 during the win as his mom, sister and best friend were in attendance.
“He did a good job. He did his part, he did his job,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said.
After O’Neill’s draft, it took him some time to finally reach professional hockey. He would spend two years in the United States Hockey League with the Omaha Lancers before becoming an integral part of the blue line with the NCAA’s Maine Black Bears. At the end of his senior season he made the jump to the American Hockey League’s St. John’s Ice Caps, one year after the Thrashers became the Winnipeg Jets.
Injuries to Radko Gudas, Shayne Gostisbehere and Andrew MacDonald forced Flyers general manager Ron Hextall to bring in reinforcements, and after 346 games in the AHL O’Neill, who was selected 210th out of 213 picks in 2006, finally got the call.
“It was pretty cool. It was the first one I’ve received like that,” he said on Wednesday. “I knew that someone was trying to call me, so I had a little bit of an idea. I was pretty cool for a few seconds there and then he told me. It’s exciting. It’s cool for me. I’m excited to be able to play the game.”
We see these stories every season, from Bracken Kearns to Pat Cannone — sometimes those long bus rides in the minors eventually do pay off with a chance in The Show. Who knows how long O’Neill’s stay in the NHL will be, but a goal was certainly reached Thursday night in St. Louis.