Caleb O’Brien leads all Flint Jr. Generals in scoring among defensemen and is fifth overall in North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL) defense scoring.
He’s also spent time with the Aberdeen Wings of the North American Hockey League (NAHL) and looks to have a bright future once he graduates from the NA3HL, including possible college hockey destinations.
To the casual observer, this sounds like a description of a grizzled junior hockey veteran, but the fact of the matter is that O’Brien doesn’t turn 18 until August.
“I feel that this season has gone extremely well and that I've improved so much from the beginning of the season,” O’Brien said. “I've improved on all parts of my game and feel that I will be ready to move up to a higher league next year.”
Earlier this season, O’Brien earned a call-up to Aberdeen and, even though he didn’t see any game action, he certainly saw what the NAHL is all about.
“I practiced with (the Wings) for a week and watched one of their games,” said O’Brien. “It was an awesome experience for me and I hope to have the opportunity to play for them next season.”
O’Brien already has his future planned out and feels he has all the resources to make his aspirations a reality.
“My short-term goals for next year are to play in the NAHL and then a year or two after that is to make it to the USHL,” said O’Brien. “That would be a huge accomplishment for me and I know if I work hard on and off the ice, also during the summer, I'll be able to achieve that goal. My long-term goal is to play NCAA Division I or Division III hockey.”
This season in Flint, O’Brien has four goals and 14 assists for 18 points. While the Jr. Generals look to be on the outside looking in when it comes to NA3HL postseason berths, that hasn’t deterred the team from maintaining their focus on the ice.
“We still stay focused by still working hard as we have the entire season,” explained O’Brien. “We haven't changed our game plan since the beginning of the season and that was to make playoffs and go to the Hurster Cup. As a team, we try to stay as positive as we can on and off the ice and keep a good atmosphere in the locker room.”
On the consistent and positive note, O’Brien has played on the back end much of this season with veteran Derek Kessler, a very good mentor, according to O’Brien.
“Derek is a good offensive defenseman and so am I, which helped in making us defensive partners,” O’Brien noted. “He knows how to play and he's had experience in this league before, which has really helped. Derek and I just clicked together and always knew how to play with each other.”
Playing in a town like Flint, a blue-collar town, reminds O’Brien of his hometown to the north of Saginaw. Both have many similarities, including hockey.
“Flint and Saginaw are very similar on the hockey aspect,” said O’Brien. “Saginaw has the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL and Flint has the Michigan Warriors of the NAHL. I think this is what these cities need, considering the hard economic times. People need something like this in the towns to enjoy and it helps younger kids that aren't playing hockey get interested in the game. Even through the hard times, I'd say that these two teams have brought a lot of excitement to each city and both of them currently looking like they'll make playoffs is even better.”
Choosing to play in the NA3HL was an option O’Brien had a year ago, but he chose to play Junior B in the Great Lakes Junior Hockey League with the Tri-City Icehawks, a team that was coached in 2009-10 by current Flint head coach Jeff Worlton.
“I knew some past alumni from the Jr. Generals that went to nationals with them a couple years before that said Flint has an excellent program and ownership,” O’Brien said. “Coach Worlton has had a huge impact on my development and last year was a huge year with him and he helped improve my game so much. This year was a big year, too, considering this is the year that I had to really show I could play and try to make a move up to the NAHL next year.
“I thank him very much for the both seasons I've been with him and all he's done for me, on and off the ice.”
BATTLE CREEK JR. REVOLUTION: Jeff Kohanchuk scored his first goal in 10 games last Saturday night against Queen City.
CHICAGO HITMEN: Jeremy Edwards tallied a goal in each game last weekend vs. Quad City.
CLEVELAND JR. LUMBERJACKS: With his two goals last Sunday against Pittsburgh, George Holt became the fourth Cleveland skater with 10 or more goals and now has 11 on the year.
FLINT JR. GENERALS: Warren Carter is on a four-game point-scoring streak and has registered two goals and three assists over that span.
METRO JETS: Matt Stirling netted his team-high 20th goal Sunday afternoon in St. Louis. The Jets will also welcome back forward Tommy Kilgore, up with the NAHL’s Port Huron Fighting Falcons the past two weekends, this weekend for their home-and-home series with Flint.
MICHIGAN MOUNTAIN CATS: Newly-signed James Kakos’ first goal of the season was the overtime game-winner last Friday night at home against then league-leading Peoria.
PEORIA MUSTANGS: Goalie Samuel Hingtgen stopped all 15 shots he faced for his first career shutout as the Mustangs blanked Michigan Saturday night, 5-0. Hingtgen is also 4-0 in his last four starts.
PITTSBURGH JR. PENGUINS: Goalie Collin LeMay is one of five NA3HL netminders with two shutouts this season. He’s also tied for the league lead in wins with 16 (Mike Meadows from Quad City is the other).
QUAD CITY JR. FLAMES: After losing four straight games from Jan. 8-16, Meadows has won his last four between the pipes, including two straight sweeps the past two weekends against St. Louis and Chicago.
QUEEN CITY STEAM: Leading scorer Justin Short recorded a hat trick in the Steam’s 6-1 win at Battle Creek last Sunday afternoon.
ST. LOUIS JR. BLUES: Cooper Mitchell broke a 2-2 tie with Metro Sunday afternoon with a goal at 18:19 of the third period. Bo Eastman then scored at 19:54 to give St. Louis a 4-2 win over the Jets.
TOLEDO CHEROKEE: Toledo plays six of its next 10 games at the Team Toledo Ice House, a rink that has seen the Cherokee go 10-6-1-0 on home ice.