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Ex-college hockey player gets chance to 'play' with Bruin

March 15, 2009
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Almost three years to the day after Steve O'Brien played his last professional hockey game for Northern Ireland's Belfast Giants, the invitation to face off against Tim Thomas, the Bruins all-star goaltender, arrived. It wasn't the NHL confrontation that O'Brien, 31, might have hoped for during his minor league years, but the offer intrigued the Art Technology Group salesman, who still skates in local men's leagues.

O'Brien, a former standout defenseman for the University of New Hampshire, received a call from Dan Enders, who captained the team in 2000. Enders had heard from C.J. Ficek, his old teammate-turned-Bauer employee, that a few guys were needed to pose as Flyers and Bruins for an on-ice photo shoot and shootout with Thomas. Nike's recent sale of the Bauer hockey equipment line created the need for action shots of Thomas in equipment bearing the Bauer logo.

O'Brien arrived at Boston University's Agganis Arena, his gear stuffed in the Catholic Memorial bag of his high school days. Steve Jones, Bauer's communications director, handed him a Mike Richards Flyers jersey. When O'Brien, a right-hand shooter, mentioned that Richards is left-handed, Jones blithely dismissed the discrepancy. Thomas flashing some Bauer leather, not verisimilitude, was priority one. Jones then handed the 5-foot-10-inch Enders a Bruins jersey that read Chara, the name of 6-foot-9-inch Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. The BU men's hockey team, leaving the rink for a trip to Lowell, noted the incongruity with some spirited heckling of Enders.

O'Brien, who competed against Thomas in college, managed to slip a shot past the NHL star, whom he described as easy-going and the consummate professional.

RON FLETCHER

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