By Paul Osborne, Guelph Tribune
The Guelph Storm’s all-time leading scorer Jeff O’Neill will be having his number 92 raised to the rafters Saturday afternoon as part of the team’s 25th anniversary celebrations. O’Neill, drafted first overall by the Storm in the Ontario Hockey League’s 1992 draft, went on to score 329 points in just three seasons. He went on to play 821 games in the NHL with Hartford, Carolina and Toronto. Now a hockey analyst for TSN, O’Neill took a few minutes to reminisce about his time in the Royal City.
Q: The year before you were drafted the Storm had won just four games. What were your thoughts coming to a team that had set an OHL record for fewest wins in a season?
A: “To be honest I don’t think I watched one game of the Guelph Storm before I was drafted, but I knew they hadn’t been very good the year before. Mike Kelly drafted some good guys and everyone from Mike on down, players included, took it upon themselves to change things around – and that included changing those horrific jerseys they wore the year before.”
Q: How did you handle the high expectations of being the first overall pick?
A: “Being drafted first overall there was a bit of extra pressure. I was supposed to be the guy to help turn things around. There are busts all over in sports and I was motivated not to be that guy. Coach John Lovell showed a lot of confidence in me to get the job done. Both he and Craig Hartsburg understood how to handle me. I was never a player who needed to be coddled, I usually needed a good kick in the rear end and they had no trouble doing that.”
Q: How does it feel to be the first-ever Storm player to have his jersey honoured like this?
A: “It’s pretty humbling. Obviously there have been a lot of great players come through Guelph. I sure don’t think it means I’m the best player but to be the first to go up is quite an honour. You’d think with being an NHL player and now in my current (TV) job that I like the spotlight, but I have never liked attention brought onto myself, I almost feel awkward about it.”
Q: Are you surprised you still hold the all-time scoring record for the team?
A: “Yes I am. I thought by now maybe someone who (played five years) would have come in and passed me, but in all hockey scoring is not what it used to be.”
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