O’Donnell takes unique path to the NHL

Photo courtesy Getty Images.

By Tony Saxon, Guelph

Conor O’Donnell’s road to the NHL has been unlike any other.

Four years as an OHL third-liner, winning a Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires.

Four years as an OUA front-liner, becoming the Nipissing Lakers’ all-time leading scorer.

A pro season in Germany. Half a year in France.  A few months in the East Coast Hockey League before a trip to the Allan Cup with the senior ‘A’ Stoney Creek Generals and hanging up the gear at age 27.

So naturally, there was O’Donnell on Saturday night making his NHL debut at age 29, a taste of the NHL that probably wouldn’t have happened had he not come to North Bay for four years to play under Nipissing head coach Mike McParland.

O’Donnell, who collected 134 points in 108 games at Nipissing from 2010-14, put away his stick and gloves in the summer of 2017 in exchange for a referee’s whistle. On Saturday, after working 75 AHL games in his second professional season, he dropped the puck in Florida for the season finale between the Panthers and New Jersey Devils.

Behind the Panthers bench was Bob Boughner, who coached O’Donnell to a Memorial Cup with the 2009 Spitfires. Former Spitfires teammate Taylor Hall of the Devils, the NHL’s reigning Hart Trophy winner, was injured but came to the room after the game to offer congratulations.

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