BY RANDY SCHULTZ—
Dan O’Brien is the 2019 Recipient of the Dr. James Rusin Memorial Award.
The Rusin Award is given in the memory of Dr. James Rusin, honoring dedication and commitment to Girls Varsity Ice Hockey in Western New York.
O’Brien is certainly worthy of the award, considering what he did to help establish a girl’s varsity ice hockey team in Niagara County.
“I was shocked when I was told I had won the award,” stated O’Brien, who is a Finance Manager for First Student, the bus company. “I’m honored to have won the award.
“I had to think about all of the people that made this happen. It wasn’t just me. It was a team of people that helped get this girls hockey team in Niagara County.”
A hockey seed was planted 15 months ago. It was planted on Monday, Feb. 12.
That’s when a group of 12 parents and students representing a proposed Starpoint High School girls ice hockey team, made their presentation to the Starpoint Board of Education meeting held at the Starpoint Middle School.
Headed by O’Brien, a presentation was made during the open session of the meeting proposing to begin a girl’s varsity high school hockey team for the 2018-19 season.
“The girls that are interested in playing would become part of a team that would play in the Western New York Girls Varsity Ice Hockey Federation, which currently has seven teams,” said O’Brien that night. “Starpoint would become the eighth team.”
Following several months of phone calls and meetings, Starpoint, along with Niagara-Wheatfield High School, merged to form what is now known as the Niagara County Girls Varsity Ice Hockey Team.
It is the first Niagara County-based team to play in the WNYGVIHF. The other seven teams that make up the Section VI Girls Fed are located in Erie County.
O’Brien admits there were several anxious moments leading up to that first game for the Niagara County team.
“Even after we had gotten school boards on board and athletic directors on board, there was some questions regarding the financing of the teams,” said O’Brien who is married to Diane and they have two children, Nick and Natalie. “The budgets were looked at and budgets were tweaked a bit.
“A lot of phone calls were made and talk was going on between many of the parents. In the end we had a team on the ice.”
The Niagara County team went through a lot of adversity including having a winless season, not knowing until the day before the first practice began if they would have a team or not, among other things.
“Our coaching staff did a great job
of organizing things and keeping the girls focused all season long,” added O’Brien.
“We had a great group of parents and fans who followed us all season long.”
What is in the future for the Niagara County team?
“My understanding is that two more schools are going to join the Niagara County team,” concluded O’Brien. “Of course we will be there supporting the team.
“Whatever is needed I’ll be glad to help.”