Reilly O’Connor received a text message from his coach Robert Dirk Wednesday morning.
It said congratulations. The thing was, he didn’t know what the Penticton Lakers coach was commending him for.
Dirk broke the news that O’Connor was chosen as the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League Player of the Month for November in the Okanagan Conference. Former Laker Colten Schell is the recipient in the Kootenay Conference with the Nelson Leafs.
His response to Dirk? “That’s pretty cool.”
“I was pretty surprised,” said O’Connor, following his team’s 6-4 loss to the Osoyoos Coyotes Wednesday night in the community rink of the South Okanagan Events Centre. “I have been working pretty hard and it’s nice to see it pay off.”
In the nomination sent to the league, the coaching staff wrote that their co-captain has taken on a key leadership role.
“He consistently leads by being a positive influence with our team and in the community on and off the ice,” wrote the Lakers, which was published on the KIJHL website with the other nominees. “He maintains his strong character by setting a great example of hard work and commitment. He demonstrates consistent effort in the gym, practice, games and always strives to be a positive player with his teammates that sometimes go unnoticed. Reilly is a dedicated leader and role model.”
The league commended O’Connor for being a team leader despite a tough month of hockey. The Lakers won once in 10 games.
During November, O’Connor, who leads Lakers defenceman in scoring with four goals and 13 points, collected a goal and five assists in 10 games. The Penticton product said he plays the way he always does —hard and keeps things simple.
While the honour gives O’Connor the confidence in believing he’s a good player, he won’t focus on his personal success while the Lakers are in the midst of a nine-game losing streak.
Dirk said it’s phenomenal for his player to be recognized and added it’s well deserved. Playing over 30 minutes a game and in every situation, Dirk described his defenceman as a “warrior.”
“He never complains, he shows up, he leads by example, plays hurt,” said Dirk. “He goes out and does what is asked. His attitude is phenomenal. He is a tremendous person. Every coach would want 20 Reilly O’Connors.”
During their loss to the Coyotes, the Lakers erased a 4-2 deficit on goals by Joey DiCaire, who finished with two on the night, and Nick Landry. Brandon Watson score the winner two minutes after Landry tied it, when he was allowed to cut through the front of the crease and go around Lakers goalie Joel Wilson. Watson then scored again with 36 seconds remaining. Wilson finished with 41 saves and is winless in 10 starts. He has a .911 save percentage.
The Lakers next action is Friday in Summerland and then they host the Chase Heat Sunday at 2 p.m. The Lakers are still without the services of six players, including Dale Nerland, who was injured Wednesday. Dirk said he plans on using a forward on defense as none of their affiliate players are available for call-up.