October 24, 2023

Logan O'Connor after the Avalanche's 6-4 win
Sarurday over the Carolina Hurricanes.

This seems almost hard to believe now.

For 21 consecutive games in the last half of the 2015-16 season  at the University of Denver, Pioneers coach Jim Montgomery made freshman winger Logan O’Connor a healthy scratch.

It was a testing experience for O’Connor, who eight years later has settled in with the Avalanche as a valuable, corrosive and versatile winger.  

At DU, he was part of a highly touted Pioneers freshman class that also included forwards Troy Terry, Jarid Lukosevicius, Dylan Gambrell and Colin Staub; plus defensemen Blake Hillman and Sean Mostrom.

Born in Texas when his father, Myles, was playinig for the International Hockey League's Houston Aeros, but raised in Calgary, Logan forced himself to take stock.

I first asked Logan about the experience on a Zoom call in late 2021, when the Avalanche was about to resume the schedule after a holiday break and a seven-game COVID-related shutown. 

“It was definitely a dream obviously at that point to get here,” O’Connor told me then. "But it was hard to see at that time, just based on where I was at in the lineup, being out of the lineup for [21] games straight, it definitely was hard to see beyond that and you’re sort of getting frustrated.

“But when that was going on, I just tried to stick to my identity, play to the details and be a really good teammate. I think that’s the biggest thing, is help those around you. Thinking of where I’ve come from there, it’s definitely pretty crazy to think about. But I think a lot of it goes towards hard work and just playing to my game and constantly trying to improve day in and day out.”

In other words, he didn’t spend that hockey down time gorging on hot dogs at Mustard’s Last Stand, adjacent to DU.

By the next season — 2016-17 — O’Connor was an integral part of the Pioneers’ Frozen Four championship team as a sophomore. He had another solid, if unspectacular, season as a junior before he was named the Pioneers’ captain for 2018-19. But he attended the Avalanche’s 2018 development camp as an undrafted free agent and instead of returning for his senior year, signed with Colorado.

O’Connor is a better pro than his DU career — ultimately, 16 goals and 27 assists in 108 games — could have foretold.

It happens.

That’s due to both late blooming and the suitability of his game for, first, the AHL — he played 104 game with the AHL Colorado Eagles in 2018-19 and 2019-20— and now the NHL with the Avalanche.

At age 27, he has become much more than an organization forward, more than a guy who can be summoned from Loveland to capably fill in during injury sieges … and then be sent back.

He’s entrenched.

O’Connor already has three goals this season -- all shorthanded, one each in the last three games -- cementing his role as a gritty penalty killer and even a middleweight avenger when the moment calls for it. (It did last week when he fought with the Kraken's Jordan Eberle, whose hit on Avalanche winger Andrew Cogliano in the playoffs last spring left Cogliano with two fractured neck vertebrae.)  He's playing on the fourth line with Cogliano and Fredrik Oloffson as the 5-0-0 Avalanche tries to remain unbeaten in a Tuesday night meeting with the New York Islanders at UBS Arena in the shadow of Belmont Park.   

His shorthanded goals against Seattle, Chicago and Carolina made him the eighth NHL player to get shorthanded goals in three consecutive games, and he joined Joe Sakic in that elite group. 

"I've seen him around here a little bit," O'Connor said after the win over the Hurricanes Saturday. "He's a bit of a legend. . . It's weird for sure, but it's definitely pretty cool and surreal, I guess, to be with him. But I'm more so excited about the two points and the good start we've had as a team here." 

O'Connor also has one assist to go with his three goals in Colorado's five games, and he's averaging 11:41 of ice time. 

“It’s always nice to score shorthanded, especially consecutively, but (Cogliano) made a great play again tonight," O'Connor said. "And, it’s always been someone else making the play to give me the opportunity. Cale (Makar) on the first one, Mans (Josh Manson) and Cogs the second, so it’s a team effort unit-wise. Like I’ve said before, penalty kill’s been good thus far and it starts with (goalie Alexandar Georgiev) in the backend.” 

(By the way, there are one or two NHL players who don't have nicknames.)

I again asked O'Connor about becoming a better pro than college player.

"I think maybe my work ethic finally starting to pay dividends, more so than in college," he said. "Compoundimg, doing the extra work, that's maybe separated me from other guys, giving me the chance to improve in other areas of my game." 

Logan O'Connor's career stats at hockeydb.com

Avalanche coach Jared Bednar wasn't around when O'Connor initially struggled at DU, but when I mentioned O'Connor is a better pro, Bednar conceded, "Could be. I didn't know him much as a college player until I saw him at our rookie tournament. At rookie camp, one year we played a scrimmage and I think he had three goals that game. I was like, 'This guy's pretty good, we should sign him.' Everyone was saying the same thing. Yeah some times the pro game just matches up more. It's a more defined role, probably for what he's doing. Talking to (Montgomery, now with the Boston Bruins), he really liked him in college, too. You see why. He's one of the hardest-working guys we've got, competitive as can be. He wants to win. Any role, any task you give him, he's happy to try and help and do his best while he's doing it. We need to drag that out of our entire roster, that kind of mentality."

Avalanche road trip:

Tuesday -- at New York Islanders

Thursday -- at Pittsburgh

Sunday -- at Buffalo 





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