Possessing a remarkable footprint on American ice hockey lore, the New England area is becoming just as formidable for its supply of stars in ball hockey. As the American Street Hockey Institute (ASHI) assembles teams for both ISBHF World Championship and Masters play, resulting in the emergence of said teams emerging as consistent contenders for a podium finish, it has found a key recruiting hub in New England.
Such a prominent presence was evident as Team USA Blue (one of two teams fielded by the ASHI in Bermuda) played for the gold medal at the 2018 ISBHF Masters in Bermuda. Competing as a member of the blueline corps, Colleen O’Connell, a native of Boxford, Massachusetts, provided a steady poise, appearing in all of USA Blue’s games in Masters play.
Despite being kept off the scoresheet in Bermuda, O’Connell displayed a fundamentally sound game on the slab. Frustrating opposing forwards while grinding it out, showing a fearless approach, it constituted a display of character that allowed O’Connell the chance to be a member of USA Blue. Reflecting on the revelation that she qualified for a roster spot, there was an incredible feeling of accomplishment. Attaining the prestigious chance to compete with such a distinguished team, it represented a breakthrough in her hockey dream,
“Extremely excited to be representing the USA and to have the opportunity to play with some incredible athletes that are very inspiring to me. It is an opportunity in life that I am blessed to be a part of!”
Also a veteran of the “Over 30 Hockey League”, competing in co-ed ice hockey, O’Connell’s other passion involves the Service Dog Project. Serving as a trainer for the charitable organization, it is an extension of her strong values, displaying a strong approach to teamwork. One that sees the Project provide working service dogs for both veterans and individuals suffering from disabilities.
Prior to the Masters, O’Connell enjoyed a trio of unique connections to USA Blue and its women who donned the jersey. The first, and perhaps most notable, was the chance to contribute towards an empowering chapter in American female ball hockey history.
Participating at the 2007 World Outdoor Ball Hockey Championships in Barrie, Ontario, located north of Toronto, O’Connell (known as Sedille back then) was part of the victorious United States national team. Making this achievement more special was the fact that said team was the first from the US to hoist the championship.
Although it was unforeseen, several women from that triumphant team would call O’Connell a teammate in Bermuda, bringing the experience full circle. Among them were Kristen Patenaude, Nancy O`Halloran and goaltender Alessandra Glista.
Fast-forward seven years, O’Connell would experience another unique brush with history. As the ASHI hosted its first-ever Tryout Camp, evaluating talent that would eventually compete for the 2015 ISBHF Worlds, dynasty and destiny collided, reuniting her with several of the nation’s top talents, some highly familiar.
Hosted in Dracut, Massachusetts during the first weekend of May 2014, O’Connell shared the slab at said Camp with future Masters teammates on USA Blue. Among such notable talent included the likes of Pennsylvania’s Pam Bilger, the aforementioned Glista, also a native of Massachusetts, Patenaude, Karen Levin, who would capture the Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award in Bermuda, Courtney Semplice, Sarah Wilson, who ranked fourth on USA Blue in scoring, plus Cherie Stewart, who emerged from the 2018 Masters as the Most Valuable Player.
Coincidentally, O’Connell would enjoy the opportunity to share another unique connection with Sulpice, a native of Pittsburgh. One year after the ASHI Tryout Camp, both gained significant experience in another notable international event. Among a proud handful of American-born players with Irish heritage, each experienced the milestone of elite play as a member of Team Ireland at the 2015 World Cup of Ball Hockey, an event sanctioned by the World Ball Hockey Federation.
Sandwiched in between the 2007 Outdoor title and the 2014 Camp was a unique highlight in O’Connell’s career. Hosted by SoCal Street Hockey, O’Connell excelled at the Sin City Street Hockey Shootout, making her mark with superlative performances that contributed to her standing as one of the nation’s best ball hockey players.
Competing for a pair of teams based out of Aston, Pennsylvania, a co-ed team identified by the sobriquet Sparks Coed, while the ladies team held a similar nomenclature, Lady Sparks, O’Connell appeared with each team in their respective championship games, a key factor in such success.
In spite of Sparks Coed finishing as the runner-up in the Coed Division, bested by a team hailing from Connecticut, O’Connell was the lone female player recognized as one of the touarnament’s Most Valuable Players. Any disappointment from the runner-up finish would dissolve rather quickly, as O’Connell led the Lady Sparks to a Women’s Division title against a highly competitive Dekhockey Ste. Jerome squad from Montreal.
Although teammate Adele King would garner the Most Valuable Goaltender honors, O’Connell was the lone member of the Lady Sparks honored as one of three possible tournament MVP recipients.
Undeniably, the prestige of such past milestones was superseded by the opportunity to don the US jersey in 2018. Reflecting on the thrill of wearing the colors of the highly competitive USA Blue, signifying her welcome as one of the nation’s elites. Certainly, a landmark moment whose lasting impact was enhanced by the treasured thrill of listening to the Star Spangled Banner prior to the opening face-off, bringing a profound meaning to the experience.
“The first time I wore my USA jersey was amazing, knowing that you are representing your country and you are surrounded by such an amazing group of athletes. Playing people from all over the world is an experience I will never forget.
One of my favorite things was standing on the rink with my teammates in my jersey and hearing the national anthem!!! It gets me every time I hear it, always fighting back tears!!! I am so incredibly full.”
Enriching the overall experience was the fact that games in the tropical locale of Bermuda presented a dream scenario for O’Connell. As the rink was on an elevated spot, the Atlantic Ocean in clear view at all times, with a horizon of blue sky enveloping the spectacle, fun and friendship took on a new meaning, overjoyed at the opportunity.
“Bermuda was an amazing place to play. Come on, I am playing for USA in 80 degree weather on a rink (based) on a cliff overlooking the ocean!! Really, pinch me; is this even real?? Playing the sport, I love with some of the most important amazing people in my life on a beautiful island!!! WOW!”
Reaching the gold medal game, it offered O’Connell a chance to be part of history. Had USA Blue defeated its eternal rival, Canada, it would have signified the first time that an American-based team captured the gold medal in the Masters. Undoubtedly, it served as the final objective, a key motivational factor for a highly determined O’Connell.
While the silver medal does not hold the same allure as a gold, bringing with it an understandably sullen feeling, absorbing the final experience supplied a different perspective. Proud to have been able to participate in such an excellent event, simultaneously celebrating the world’s finest, O’Connell was ecstatic at the chance to play for the gold. Considering that several teams left Bermuda empty-handed, denied a podium finish, the realization of the road taken is one which added gloss, forever grateful at the prospect,
“Winning gold for me obviously was my goal and taking silver stings a bit, but again just participating in an event like this and getting to play in the finals leaves me in awe that I am there, regardless of the medal.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Image obtained from Facebook