With similar roots, former Flyer Tony Amonte and Jay O'Brien have a new connection


Tony Amonte knew of Jay O'Brien.

The two hail from Hingham, Massachusetts, a town roughly 15 miles south of Boston right off the harbor. Amonte's sons Ty and Tristan both play hockey and are close to the same age as the 18-year-old O'Brien; Ty is 20, while Tristan is 18 and about three months younger. All three are now good friends.

"So I saw Jay around quite a bit," Amonte said.

What did he first see?

"Knew he was going to be a pretty special player," he said.

No small compliment coming from a five-time NHL All-Star with 900 career points (416 goals, 484 assists) to his name. 

Amonte has witnessed his impression bear fruit. The former Flyer coached O'Brien at Thayer Academy in Braintree, Massachusetts, where Amonte also went to school. O'Brien played for Amonte before enrolling at Thayer. It was a split-season league prior to high school and O'Brien's potential was evident.

"During that split season, he had an opportunity to play with a couple of older guys and you could tell right there, how hungry he was and how talented he was," Amonte said in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia last week. "The rest was just up to him if he could continue to work and do what he needed to do on and off the ice, that he was going to be a successful kid and a big-time player at some point."

That point took a step this summer when O'Brien's story drew another connection to Amonte. The speedy center was drafted 19th overall by the Flyers, the team his head coach played for from 2002-04 and helped reach the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals, where it lost to the Lightning in seven games.

When the Flyers called O'Brien's name, Amonte didn't have much to say about the organization.

"He texted me and said, 'That was incredible,'" O'Brien recalled.

Amonte believes the franchise will speak for itself.

"I loved playing there. It was one of the best organizations I played for," Amonte said. "Mr. (Ed) Snider spared no expense for the team. Whatever you asked them for, they gave you, they were there. It's a fun place to play. Of all the places I've played, that was fun. 

"It was a great time because we were winning, as well, had some good teams. It is a fun city to play in. One of the better organization's in the league, in my opinion."

O'Brien got to feel it at development camp in late June, early July, when he showed why the Flyers drafted him earlier than many anticipated. The 5-foot-11, 176-pounder becomes a force when he accelerates and is scary with the puck on his stick. There's a reason why he went off for 43 goals and 80 points in 30 games with the Tigers last season, which has Providence College excited for his game this fall.

"When he gets an opportunity to score, he puts it in the back of the net — there's no question," Amonte said. "That's exactly how it was when he played for me. It was quite amazing, the kid was in all alone, he scores. He makes it happen. To have a clutch goal scorer like that is just huge. 

"That was the first thing I really noticed about him — other than his grit and just how hard he played and how much he wanted it. That innate ability to get in on the goalie all alone and be able to make it happen."

Don't think just flashy goal scorer, either.

"I love his grit to go along with goal scoring," Amonte said. "He's really got a lot of grit and a lot of sandpaper to his game. And I think that's the Philly way. Obviously being a Flyer and having played there, it's all about heart and passion and how hard you go and I think he fits that mold.

"Being drafted as high as he was, it's a testament to staying the course and just doing what he needed to do and going out there and proving he was the best player in New England."

The Flyers were questioned a bit for possibly reaching with their pick of O'Brien. Quite frankly, though, general manager Ron Hextall and his scouting staff didn't give a damn about pre-draft rankings when taking O'Brien at No. 19 over other centers such as Joseph Veleno, Rasmus Kupari and Isac Lundestrom.

It's fitting that those ratings didn't mean much to the player the Flyers were so-called gambling on with their second selection of the first round.

"I don't even know where I was," O'Brien said. "But I didn't really pay attention to it. … It's not really where you get drafted, it's what you do after you get drafted."

Amonte said the Flyers didn't touch base much during the season but were at many of Thayer's games in the winter, while O'Brien was aware of the team's interest.

"I talked to them at kind of the midpoint of the year and then at the combine," O'Brien said. "I knew it was a possibility, I knew they liked me and I liked them a lot. When their pick was up, I was kind of crossing my fingers. You can't tell because anything can happen at the draft, but we built a good relationship with the staff and I couldn't be happier to be here."

And if he needs some help, O'Brien knows a guy.

"I just always loved him, he's so passionate, he's very competitive, real competitive guy," O'Brien said of Amonte. "Doesn't say much off the ice, just keeps it short and sweet and then on the ice, little pointers here and there. It's pretty easy to listen to a guy like that who has been through it, has had so much success in the NHL. 

"It was a blast, he was a big part of my success and we're going to keep in touch the rest of my life."

Down the line, O'Brien will have Amonte coming back to Philadelphia. After a game, a handshake and hug will be in store for the boys from Hingham.

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