O’Bannon heads to China

Carolyn Drummond

Kent State club hockey player will represent United States in World University Games

Kent State forward Jason O’Bannon will be taking on the world, playing for Team USA at the World University Games in China. O’Bannon is currently second on the Flashes with 40 points this year. Daniel R. Doherty | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Tomorrow Kent State club hockey forward Jason O’Bannon will pull on a new jersey thousands of miles away from the Ice Arena.

The jersey is for Team USA, and O’Bannon will wear it on the ice in Harbin, China, at the World University Games.

Team USA chose O’Bannon out of more than 500 hockey players from across the United States who were invited to attend a selection camp.

“I’m just excited to represent my country,” O’Bannon said. “I never got the chance to wear the red, white and blue (before). It’s an honor.”

O’Bannon has earned a long list of titles, including All-American, Central State’s Collegiate Hockey League scoring leader, CSCHL MVP and American Collegiate Hockey Association All-Star twice. In addition to that list, here’s another:

11. O’Bannon doesn’t wear No. 11 by chance. He picked the number because his favorite player growing up was Mark Messier, a former center in the National Hockey League. The NHL Hall of Famer won the Stanley Cup six times – once with the New York Rangers, O’Bannon’s favorite team.

10. He put on skates for the first time when he was 4 years old. After attending a skating party, he took up hockey.

He later went on to play at St. Edward High School in Lakewood under head coach Bob Whidden, father of Kent State coach Jarret Whidden. O’Bannon has enjoyed playing for both father and son, but said Bob Whidden made him into the player he is today.

“He taught me how to be a hard-nosed player and how to never give up,” O’Bannon said.

9. Last year he missed the entire season because of a skiing injury. After having an outstanding 2006-2007 season, in which he racked up 84 points, it was hard for him to sit out during what should have been another all-star year.

“It’s tough watching every day,” O’Bannon said. “I’d worked hard the year before to make it my team and to be a leader.”

8. Next December he will graduate with a degree in criminal justice, but he plans on continuing his hockey career.

“I’m going to do whatever I can to move forward,” he said. “I don’t stop at the end of the season. I need to be at my best all the time.”

7. His parents come to every game. It doesn’t matter if they have to drive to Kent or fly to China, they are in the stands every time he takes the ice.

“For both of them to come to every game, it means a lot for them to be there for me,” he said. “Probably more than they know.”

6. O’Bannon’s teammates appreciate what he brings to the team. Sophomore forward Kevin Colleran, who first noticed O’Bannon’s skill when they played against each other in high school, said he brings positive energy on and off the ice.

“He’s a good influence for everyone,” Colleran said. “He’s a good motivator.”

Senior forward Chris Hourigan agreed. “Every time he’s on the ice, he’s there to work hard,” Hourigan said.

5. He’s big on routine. His teammates said he has the same kit with him every time he’s in the locker room. It contains stick tape, wax, scissors and other tools to prepare for games.

“He’s kind of particular about his things,” senior forward Stu Smith said. “He’s always trying to get the best advantage.”

4. Besides bringing the same things to the rink, he also follows the same pre-game rituals.

“I just put a towel over my head, sit in the stall and close my eyes,” O’Bannon said. “That’s how I get focused. I picture everything.”

Those pictures are set to music, of course. He usually listens to “The Realist Killaz” by Tupac and 50 Cent and “Till I Collapse” by Eminem and Nate Dogg.

3. The Kent State hockey team won’t see O’Bannon in the locker room before playoffs this year because he’ll still be in China. The players know losing one of their leading scorers will impact the team.

“It’s going to be tough for us to finish out the season without him,” Colleran said. “Everyone on the team is going to have to step up.”

O’Bannon hopes the team does well so he can come back and play at Nationals.

“Everybody has been playing and practicing real hard,” O’Bannon said. “They need to play with their hearts on the line.”

2. His coach is proud of him.and envious.

“Honestly, I’m jealous of him,” Whidden said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel around the world and represent your country. He earned it.”

O’Bannon will take the ice tomorrow against Korea. Team USA will then play Slovakia, Russia and Japan before playoff rounds begin Thursday, Feb. 26.

1. O’Bannon’s hockey style is fast.

“I’m a speed person,” he said. “I pass and hit, and that’s pretty much it. I get my nose dirty when I have to. It’s too boring to be a dangler.”

His speed will be tested in China when he plays with some of the fastest skaters in the world.

“I just want to do my best,” O’Bannon said. “I want to get with my team and get my line going. It’s going to be good to play with the best kids in the nation.”

Contact club sports reporter Carolyn Drummond at [email protected].