From the moment Joe O’Brien pulled on his pads and stepped between the pipes, he knew he was destined to be a goaltender. “The first time I tried it, I got hooked on it,” O’Brien, 16, says. What’s not to love about being a goalie? Your job is throw yourself in front of a rock-hard plastic puck time after time and stop it by any means necessary, which includes using your head or face. Wait a minute, that doesn’t sound fun, it sounds like madness. “There are a couple of times you’ll take a shot to the head and kind of wonder, Why am I doing this?” O’Brien says. “It’s definitely a different mentality.”
O’Brien loves being a goaltender, but his parents weren’t so sure when he was a little guy. When he was just a tyke learning how to play hockey, he was a forward. His coach would ask for volunteers to play goalie, and O’Brien’s folks weren’t ready to let him to make the leap. One day, when his parents were out of town and he was with his grandmother, O’Brien volunteered to play in goal. He’s been a goaltender ever since.
“I just kind of fell in love with it,” he says. “I broke the news to my parents on the phone that night.”
That was almost 10 years and thousands of saves ago. O’Brien has grown into one of the top net minders in the area and CBC is happy to have him. “He’s kind of the lynchpin,” CBC coach John Jost says.
He plays for the Junior Blues, the top-level youth hockey club program in the state and one of the best in the nation. CBC, though, is among the elite athletic programs in town, regardless of sport.
The CBC hockey team is the proud owner of 11 state championships, seven of which have come since 2001. The last two seasons, the Cadets have reached the state title game only to be beaten by De Smet (2010) and Francis Howell (2011). This year’s team is on the young side. After graduating 12 seniors, CBC came into this winter with a couple of question marks. “We have a lot of skill,” O’Brien says. “Coach Jost tells us you have to play every game like it’s your last. You can’t take anyone for granted.”
Whatever questions might have been there to start the season have been answered. As of Ladue News press time, the Cadets were 12-1 and coming off an impressive 3-1 win over SLUH. In that game, O’Brien was outstanding. He made 22 saves and held the Junior Billikens to less than two goals, something that had yet to happen this season.
It was a big win for CBC and O’Brien after SLUH pinned a 5-1 loss on the Cadets in their previous meeting. In that game O’Brien wasn’t as sharp as he normally is—to bounce back with a great performance was huge. “You always have to have confidence in yourself,” O’Brien says. “If you give up a goal you have to shake it off. You have to have a quick memory. (Being a goalie) is mostly mental.”
O’Brien has it between the ears and plenty of heart to spare. But he says none of this would be possible if it wasn’t for his father, Joe. “Since I became a goalie, he’s been my number one fan,” O’Brien says. “One of the main reasons I like being a goalie is because he’s always there.”