Patrick O'Sullivan Reflects on His NHL Career: Transcript & Audio
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When you get to the NHL, you had a coach like Marc Crawford that went off on you every single night... that was ridiculous. Just reading the story in the book, if he knew your story, that just shouldn't be a way to treat you. He did have awareness of your story I assume, is that correct?
Yeah, I personally think that he knew my story. And, again, back then it wasn't like there... there was no book, there was no details and stuff. People knew. I had done a story in ESPN the Magazine. Everywhere I went, to a new team or whatever, people - I would get asked about it. Everybody knew that there was something. I had a bad relationship with my dad. Everybody knew that. I certainly believe that he knew. I don't know if it was a case of Crow not being able to control himself. I had - I talked to a lot of the older players. Some of them had played for him before even when they were young. Aaron Miller played for him as a rookie in Colorado in the mid-late '90s. He said that was just kinda what Crow did. He would pick 1 or 2 young guys and just ride them for the whole year. I don't know if it was that. I hope that it wasn't a case of him knowing my history and then thinking if he spoke to me a certain way that that would be something that would try to get me going or make me play better. Again, I don't know. I tried to be as truthful and honest as I could in my book and I didn't lay into anybody the way that I could've, for sure. Especially my experiences in Edmonton. I took it pretty easy on them. Again, it's not what my book is about. It's not really what I wanted to do with it. The Crawford thing was unfortunate. I don't know - clearly he didn't know how to change his style to adjust to the new game. That's why he's no longer in the league.
Now, with Edmonton, you mentioned it briefly, but you didn't mention what actually happened at the end. You asked for help from Edmonton and then they traded you to Phoenix. Is that pretty much what happened?
Yeah, exactly. Within two months of the season ending, they traded me and then Phoenix bought me out. Which I think Edmonton was wanting to do anyway. And the guy they got for me, they kept for a year and ended up buying out anyway. For me, I finally had realized that I was struggling with things away from the ice and I needed to get some help. I knew that I thought it would make me a better player. I have no regrets with my hockey career. When I stopped playing, I was, I guess, disappointed in what I had been able to accomplish. Based on talent alone, anybody would probably say that I should've done better. Given my circumstances, when I look at it now, I can't believe A) that I kept playing as a kid to the point where I was drafted, and then to even make the NHL. I was struggling day-to-day with trying to get out of bed and get to the rink on time. My biggest issue as a player was, I couldn't let go of the day before whether it was good or bad. The later in my career, that kind of showed with my consistency. I just didn't have enough patience with myself, I don't think, to really get the most out of my game night in and night out. That's kinda what happened, but again, I don't see how it could've been possible for me to really do any better than I did given what I was dealing with.
Just going back to L.A., it wasn't all bad - well I guess it was all bad with Crawford - I guess the second year, he was just kinda... kinder to you. Just kinda, like nothing ever happened, just treated you like another player. No apology or anything?
No, honestly, I could probably - the amount of times where I actually had a one-on-one conversation with him that second year would be under 10. In games, he never said anything to me during games. I had a pretty good year that year. Yeah, it was like, he had picked a different guy, maybe, that year? Obviously by then, I had established myself as a pretty good player in the league. I don't think there were any more doubts about whether I could play and contribute offensively and all that stuff. I had my best year with - playing for Crow. That was strictly because he just left me alone. It was interesting - we had such a good group of young players. Everyone can see now, I mean, they won 2 Stanley Cups with that young core that started to get established my first year or two with Brownie - he was there a little bit before me. Then, my first year was Kopi & I. Then we got - Quickie came, and they drafted Drew. You add a couple pieces to those guys and boom, you got 2 Cups. It was obvious, I think, even to Dean back then. By the time Crow's second year rolled around, they needed a different guy to work with the young players. That was obvious. Took a couple switches I guess, to find the right mix with Darryl there that they have now. I always look back at my time with LA with a lot of happiness. I really enjoyed the game, I established myself there. I finally proved to myself that I was good enough to really be an important player in that league. In a way, I think I kind of let go of a lot of - not my drive...well a little bit of my drive to be better and better. It was like I had finally proven to myself and the coaches and management in LA. They were real hard on me when they acquired me in the trade. They wanted me to do this better and that better. I think even subconsciously proved to my father that, look, this is what I did, this is better than anybody probably expected me to do. Especially anybody that knew me when I was younger. I think just a lot of that stuff played into not being able to really any better than I was that second year in LA. I honestly just - I didn't - I stopped caring as much.
With LA, you came up with Kopitar and you roomed together for awhile.
Yeah, we did, we lived together our rookie year. Until we were told we could no longer live together. We were having fun. I was 21, he was 19 turning 20. We were doing what young guys do, and you know, nowadays - I think, back, 10 years ago when we were starting, that was the beginning of teams paying more attention to their young players. Some teams even have their young rookies live with a billet family almost like it was junior hockey. Kopi and I had a lot of fun together. We've - him and Brownie and a few other guys - still kept in touch and talk to all the time. That was a fun first year for sure. To be that young, living in LA, we had an apartment right on - right down by the beach in Hermosa. We certainly - we got our money's worth that year.
You came up with Kopi, but you said that Rob Blake was the best player you ever played with, and even an excellent leader and mentor to you, kind of? Is that correct?
For me, and I'm sure Kopi would say the exact same thing if you asked him. It was really just me and him, our first year - Ivanans was a rookie, but he was mid-late 20s - it was just us two. We had some - well, namely Avery - a couple of guys that were older that were not the best with young players. Rob really went out of his way to make sure that we knew that we were - he kinda told us how it was. He said, "you guys are gonna be the future of this team. There's some guys in the room that realize that and there's some that don't." He just wanted to make sure that we knew that, okay, we might get shit from some older guys, but we were good players and important to the team. Blakey understood that they were rebuilding there. He just kinda made sure that we knew that we had a place and how important it was for us to prepare properly. To just learn a lot of things that you don't learn from coaches, you're not gonna learn from a GM. It's the older guys that you kinda just watch. If you shut your mouth and pay attention, you can learn a lot. I think that's what we did. Rob was just a guy that, no matter any of the bullshit that we were dealing with from Crow or if Dean was upset with us, or even Hexy would come down sometimes. That was a tough year, we weren't very good. I think the organization was struggling with, "do we really just go all in with the rebuild thing." They had added some older veteran guys that they were paying and those guys were underperforming. It was just - Rob was a real stabilizing guy for me for sure. Like I said, I think Kopi would say the same thing.
Is there any like particular moment or story you have with Rob Blake that stands out? Or is it just day to day, he was just stable and there for you guys?
He, for me, I played with a lot of different guys, I played with a lot of different teams. He was one guy that, it didn't matter what happened the day before, he was the same way everyday at the rink. He prepared the same way for practice. Whether we had won the day before or had gotten beat badly the day before. He was just such a good example for anybody, but especially for a young player. He was just the opposite, personality-wise, as our coach was. It was just something that you gravitate towards. There's nothing really specific story-wise or anything else. If Crow would come in during intermission and really gave it to us, Blakey would make sure that on Crow's way out he would say something like, "Let's win - let's come back in this game for the guys in here." Like, "fuck the coaches," type-thing. That's something that leaders can do and he's allowed to say that because nobody's gonna come back to him with a response to that. I mean, he's the captain of the team. That's kinda sports in a nutshell. You gotta rally around whatever you can to get the most out of your guys. I think that's just an example of Rob knowing exactly - that's what everyone else was thinking and he was the only guy that was allowed to actually say it. That's a good example of the type of leader that he was. Even for a team that was - we weren't making the playoffs, we all knew that. He was there everyday like he was playing on the best team in the league.
Now, you mentioned Sean Avery briefly, and I think there's an infamous story for Kings fans now, where he was giving Dustin Brown some shit for his lisp. I think Sean Avery also said that Dustin Brown's wife wasn't beautiful. Was that kind of a common thing or was that just Sean Being Sean or was it--
That was Aves. That's still probably who he is now. A couple of things with him - first of all, he was the first road roommate that I ever had. If you wanna look at how organizations - I don't wanna point the finger at LA in my own experience because it probably would've happened anywhere else - but they stick me with a guy like him on the road and I just don't know that there was a lot of thought put into that decision. I think that's just one of the things that's changed now. If you look at, you don't ever get to know who's roommates with who unless it gets brought up on TV or something. It's calculated now and you put guys together and if it's a real young guy, you stick him with an older guy that has a similar personality or somebody that they can learn from. Aves was - people ask me about him, he wasn't a hockey player, he just happened to be good at it so he did it for as long as he could and made the most money he could and then he got out of it and now he's doing whatever he wants to do, which is whatever he wanted to do all along. He was by far the weirdest guy I had ever played with. I don't think he's a horrible person, he just - he kind of struggled with his own issues and that got brought out when he was around other guys on the team. Some of the things he would say and do. Everybody knows about Sean Avery. It's not like I'm saying anything that people haven't heard before. He was just a guy that - certainly not good for young players. He should've been an individual sport athlete, I think he would've done a lot better and been a happier guy.
That's probably about true, I can't imagine Sean Avery being good for any team in any sport. That's probably why he never won a Stanley Cup or anything like that. Never was on a really great team. Trying to think of anything else - is there anything else you'd like to say about your book or NHL career just to wrap up?
No, I think we touched on all of the stuff that I would certainly wanna say. Again, for me, this is - you're reaching the LA fanbase. I really - guys say this and I don't know if it's always true, but for me I know it's true. When I watched them win that first time against New Jersey, I felt like I was - not part of the team, but I felt connected enough to the guys that I had played with when I was there to be really happy for them. At the very least, I'm glad the guy they got for me in the trade really did kinda put them over the edge. Obviously the guy won a Conn Smythe and all that stuff. At least I felt like I added to the value of that team and that franchise. I know the people, the fans have been waiting a long time to really have some success and they got that. I was treated really well by everybody that I ever interacted with, you know, with that fanbase. I was just happy that they won and everybody - you know, the fans got to see that. I guess, to win it again is just icing on the cake for everybody involved there. I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed playing in LA and that's by far my fondest memory or favorite place I ever played. Definitely LA.
To be fair, we were competing with Edmonton so I don't know if that's a real stiff competition.
Yeah, definitely. Two opposite experiences and opposite climates and opposite fan interactions. I could write another book about my two and a half years in Edmonton.
Alright Patrick. Just wanna say thank you for talking to me today. Patrick O'Sullivan's book is "Breaking Away." It's available now. Go read it, go spread his story, and let's see if we can do some good in this world.