The blue lights flash, and Boston Police officer Stephanie O’Sullivan stomps on the accelerator. While investigating a possible midnight break-in in Dorchester, her fingers dangle above her revolver, like Gary Cooper in “High Noon.” After the “all clear” is given, she relaxes. Being a police officer isn’t a whole lot different from being a Massachusetts Hockey Hall of Fame player, she says.
She should know. She is both.
“It’s a lot like hockey — fast action, quick on your feet to make a decision, use good judgment, always move your feet, and keep your head on a swivel,” said O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan, who grew up in the Neponset neighborhood of Dorchester, has 10 siblings, almost all of whom played hockey. She was smack dab in the middle at No. 6. She was on skates at age 3 and playing organized hockey at 5.
“I had five older brothers,’’ she said. “Not that they beat me up, but they definitely challenged me. I had to fight for everything I got.”
When she wanted to play in the old Neponset Youth Hockey League, her father gave the OK.
“He went to register me one day and they said, ‘Oh, girls can’t do this,’ so he took me home, he cut my hair, we went back down, and he signed me up as ‘Steven,’ ” said O’Sullivan.
And long before she went to the Boston Police firing range, she was called a sniper, like her hero, former Bruins star Ray Bourque.
“Yeah, I worked at it very hard,’’ she said. “I’d be down shooting 100 pucks every single day over at Castle Island. I used to come down the left wing and blast it opposite far side of the net. That was my spot.”
She captained the junior varsity of the powerhouse Matignon team in the late 1980s, playing left wing and center.
“She was the only young lady in the program, and I was there 40 years,” said legendary Matignon coach Marty Pierce. “She just treats everybody with dignity and respect and she definitely is a great player.”
Those skills help her as a police officer and co-director of the O’Sullivan Hockey Academy along with her brother Chris, a former NHL defenseman and Boston Police officer.
Classy college career
Growing up wasn’t easy.
O’Sullivan’s father, John, who worked long hours at Boston Edison to make ends meet, died of lymphoma a week before her high school graduation in 1990. Her mother, Ann, died of brain cancer two years later. Even as she battled her illness, Ann sat proudly in her wheelchair at the old Boston Garden to watch one of her children compete for a state championship. Stephanie, still a teenager, had to grow up fast.
“You never fully heal from it,” she said. “I think it kind of gave me the drive to be a leader. Step up and do something to run the show.”
O’Sullivan starred at Providence College, where her team won four consecutive ECAC hockey championships from 1992-95. She was Rookie of the Year her first year and Player of the Year her last. She finished with the most assists in school history and is second in points and goals. She was inducted into the Massachusetts Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008.
“I was highly skilled but also very aggressive, very physical,” she said.
She played for Team USA in four World Championships (1994, ’97, ’99, and 2000).
O’Sullivan keeps no scrapbooks and has no favorite hockey moment. She had three assists in the third period of a 6-0 drubbing of China in 1999. The following year, she scored two goals against the Russians in a 15-0 victory for Team USA. But she mentions nothing.
“I can’t remember one in particular,” she said.
She has even lost her ECAC championship rings.
“My 16-year-old nephew asks, ‘Can I see your rings?’ I don’t know where they are,” she said. “What’s important to me are the banners that are up in the [Providence College] rink. Not rings.”
In perpetual motion
O’Sullivan dreamed of being a police officer from the time she was a little girl but she knew the clock was ticking on playing world-class hockey.
“That’s what I always wanted to do, but I kept making all these national teams,” she said.
During her career with the US national team, she had 10 goals and 13 assists in just 20 games. But in a complete shocker, she was the last player cut from the US women’s Olympic team that went on to win gold in Nagano in 1992.
“It’s water under the bridge, it’s not anything I look back on,” said O’Sullivan.
The coach of that team, Ben Smith, praised O’Sullivan.
“I always regret cutting, but it’s part of the job,” he said. “Your job is to select the best players. She was a great player, and there’s lots of great players that don’t make Olympic teams.”
O’Sullivan’s brother Shaun, the family patriarch, says his sister has moved on.
“She’s competitive, never bitter, you take it and you move forward,” said the former Northeastern goalie.
She is in perpetual motion, whether it is in a frosty ice rink or one of the hot spots of the city.
She got her master’s degree in criminal justice, worked as an investigator for the Suffolk County District Attorney, and became part-owner of the Mark Bavis Arena Ice Skating Rink in Rockland. She also works in partnership with the Boston Police Activities League on offering scholarships and organizing field trips.
On a recent Thursday night at the Devine Rink in Dorchester, she is hands–on and hoarse from shouting encouragement to hundreds of kids. She seems to know most of their first names.
“I love these kids,” she said. “I love Boston.”
At home on the beat
O’Sullivan, 41, joined the Boston Police in 2010, in spectacular fashion. She petitioned and testified before the Boston City Council to increase the age limit for joining the force from 32 to 40. The day she went to City Hall, one official tried to discourage her.
“He said, ‘Hey, this is not going to work and you’re never going to fix it,’ and I was like, basically, ‘Get out of my way,’ and I kept walking,” she said. “I’ve been through too many roadblocks, whether it’s gender-related or age. Not only did I fulfill my dream, but it helped all these other people get on the force.”
She has done bicycle patrols on troubled Bowdoin Street in the summer and currently drives the police van or a rapid response cruiser on the overnight in District 11.
Her solution for gang violence is simple.
“Throw them all into the military and make them do something,” she said, “because obviously it’s not sinking in at home.”
In the dark shadows of the night, O’Sullivan is a human GPS on patrol — she knows every street. She needs only four hours of sleep and she feels at home, because, well, she is at home.
“People are like, ‘Why you smiling all the time?’ Because what I’ve been through is nothing compared to this nonsense you see on Dot Ave.,” she said. “It’s a nightmare. We’ve put on extra cars at night to clean it up.
“I actually talk to those people. It’s all heroin addicts. I see this and I thank God I have everything. I’ve had sports, I barely drink, and I never touched a drug in my life.”
The prostitutes call her “Officer Friendly.”
“They are victims, too,” said O’Sullivan.
She lifts weights, runs, does yoga, and loves boxing. Her hockey school keeps kids off the streets, she says.
“They always say idle time, idle hands is the devil’s workshop,” said O’Sullivan. “I think it’s awesome for the kids getting out there getting a good workout, staying away from those other things, having a routine.”
Handling the rough stuff
Her Boston Police partner says she had no idea O’Sullivan was a hockey star.
“She’s very modest about it,” said officer Jamila Gales. “I kind of had to pry it out of her. She’s reserved about it. People that don’t have bragging rights brag, but she’s just not a bragger, and I think she has tons of bragging rights.”
Gales says O’Sullivan is both fun and fearless.
“I love riding with her,” said Gales. “It’s good to have another person you trust with you and that you know will be hands-on with you. I trust her completely.”
Both women earned high marks last summer, responding to a 2 a.m. “officer in trouble” call, the ultimate plea for rapid assistance. When they arrived at 117 Bowdoin Street, a brawl was in full force. Gales, a powerful woman, was attacked inside the doorway, and the 5-foot-7-inch O’Sullivan was assaulted on the porch.
“If I have to go hands-on with somebody, all bets are off, it’s over,” said O’Sullivan. “I know I’m not that big, but when you’ve crossed the line with me, you’ve crossed the line.
“So this big drunk woman comes out and she winds up swinging at me. It’s insane. They have tactics that they teach us at the Academy, but sometimes you just go with what you know.
“I ended up doing a slew-foot hockey move, where you put your foot behind somebody and basically push them over. She went down, but she was a big woman.
“It was hard to cuff her. I got one cuff on and then there were so many hands in there that I didn’t know which one was hers. It was ridiculous.”
She says her life experiences and being an older cop have made her a better police officer.
“I try not to lock people up,’’ said O’Sullivan. “I come to work every night and protect the innocent if I can.”
Plus, she is still lighting the lamp — although the color has gone from red (goal) to blue (police).
“I have a great life,” she said. “I’m just very lucky, doing two jobs I love. I’m living a dream with the police and the hockey. This is the greatest job in the world.”
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.