Gilbert and O’Sullivan
Preface to Gilbert and O’Sullivan
On July 9th, 2020, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I woke up and checked my notifications on twitter to see “Patrick O’Sullivan Follows You”.
This has to be a mistake. The Patrick O’Sullivan? Why would he follow me? I reached out instantly via direct message.
“Good Morning Patrick, thanks for the follow, hope all is well,” I wrote.
Nine minutes later I heard the notification come in.
I couldn’t believe what I was about to read.
“I’m good thanks Craig, same to you.”
“If you ever need a quote about Greg Gilbert let me know.”
“I played for him in the OHL and he was a really good coach.”
My reply was almost instantaneous.
“I can’t wait to meet him. I’ve heard so many good things about him. I would love to write an article on your thoughts on Greg as a coach. Thanks again for the follow, it means a lot.”
How did Patrick O’Sullivan find me?
It just so happens O’Sullivan read the article “The Story Behind the Story: The Greg Gilbert Scoop. In all honesty I was very hesitant writing that story for a number of reasons that I outlined in the article. I had one friend reach out to me saying that I should never write another article like that again, for reasons that we won’t discuss, but never in my wildest dreams would I have thought of talking with Patrick O’Sullivan after writing it.
I think the entire hockey world knows what Patrick experienced. If you don’t you should, so stories like his never happen again. The word heartbreaking comes to mind when I think about his journey in the game.
I realize social media and especially Twitter gets a bad rap sometimes, but I’m so fortunate that on July 8, 2020 I decided to write “The Story Behind the Story.”
I suddenly feel like Paul Harvey.
“Now you know the rest of the story.”
Gilbert and O’Sullivan
Everyone knows the hockey world is a small one. Nevertheless, what does Patrick O’Sullivan and the Saint John Sea Dogs have in common?
The former OHL standout and NHL veteran of over 300 games simply raves about his former junior coach.
“If you need structure or discipline and someone who is able teach guys the right way to play and to improve themselves as individuals, which I believe to be critical at the junior level, Greg Gilbert is your guy,” O’Sullivan said proudly.
“When you develop properly, you end up winning,” O’Sullivan added.
Patrick O’Sullivan believes his former bench boss with the Mississauga IceDogs will be a perfect fit in the Port City.
“Managing the seesaw so to speak between what you need to do development wise and make sure you are still winning. Winning equals money and these junior teams are a business and we all know how that works, it’s not a secret.”
“Greg has a ton of experience at that level, at different places, at different times within his career and even in different eras of hockey,” O’Sullivan said.
O’Sullivan believes Gilbert will bring much needed stability, accountability and balance to the organization.
“Greg is going to be super prepared.”
“He’s not going to leave details uncovered,” O’Sullivan said.
“If I were a fan of that team it would be comforting to know we have someone coming in who has really seen it all at this point of his career.”
From Stanley Cup victories to manning the bench in the AHL and NHL, Greg Gilbert has certainly seen it all and done it all as a player and a coach. Some former NHLer’s struggle going behind the bench, but that’s certainly not the case for Gilbert. O’Sullivan feels that’s what sets him apart from other coaches at the major junior ranks.
“It’s easy to forget about the Cups with the Islanders and the one with the Rangers.” “Greg was a really good player to and that to me is invaluable. I think when you can combine that with also understanding just because you did play doesn’t make you a necessarily a good coach, in my opinion he has both.”
“Greg Gilbert was the best coach I had in junior without a doubt,” O’Sullivan said proudly.
“I wish I was in a place mentally where I could have used more of what he was able to give, but for my own personal situation I had a lot going on,” confessed O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan’s journey in the game and the subsequent abuse he faced by his father during his career is very well documented and extremely heartbreaking. O’Sullivan has rediscovered the love and passion for the game and is currently coaching both of his son’s teams while also providing skill development to a plethora of clients drafted into the NHL. The former USA World Junior Gold Medalist believes Gilbert’s impact will be felt widespread throughout the organization.
“I think Greg can help a wide variety of players and in my opinion that’s what you need at that level.”
“There’s a big gap between sixteen-year old’s and twenty-year old people.”
Was Greg Gilbert ahead of his time when it came to seeing both sides of the game; helping the player and the person?
“I think Greg always knew that yes we are coaching junior and back in the day the game was completely different than it is now.”
O’Sullivan loves all the current changes in the game, but when it boils right down to it, it’s all about the people.
“It’s clear right down to the facts what people in that age range need to be happy and successful, whether that’s in hockey or if they are going to get the school package.”
“It’s turned more into what’s best for these kids moving on in their lives rather than how can I squeak every ounce of blood and sweat out of the player.”
O’Sullivan points to players that only play one season in the CHL before moving on.
“I think treating people like they are people instead of just like it is at most pro ranks, but at least by that time you know what’s on the table,” O’Sullivan said.
“Sometimes you’re just a piece of meat and you need a job, so you work the job.”
“I think Greg recognized that before other people mostly because he played and coached at the highest level possible. To be successful at the that level you need to know people are different and that you can’t treat everyone the same way.”
O’Sullivan believes Gilbert will excel at getting to know every player on a personal level which will pay dividends on and off the ice.
“Greg doesn’t need the X’s and O’s.”
“In that gap between coaching, he’s probably had to keep up on what young kids are like now and to make sure that he is aware of their needs,” O’Sullivan said.
“He will be fully prepared for the job that he has now with the Sea Dogs.”
What were the most influential or invaluable lessons Gilbert taught O’Sullivan during his final two seasons in Mississauga?
“There were times where things were difficult between me and him because I was such a good player and by the time when Greg came, I had already played two years in the league and if it hadn’t been for the lockout, I probably would have been out of that league a lot quicker.”
“I think Greg felt like he needed to make sure I knew if I wanted to play in the NHL, which was the goal, that there were certain things I would have to change about my game and certain discipline things whether it was off the ice or trying to focus on what I needed to do to get better at the pro level, so I wasn’t just getting away with at the junior level.”
Gilbert’s tutelage may have fallen on deaf ears at times back then, but they are certainly appreciated now more than ever.
The hockey world has come full circle for O’Sullivan, who finds himself heavily involved in an advisory role for many of his players he’s providing skill development for. O’Sullivan’s offensive exploits in the OHL is the stuff of legend, but he knows first-hand what young players have to add or eliminate in order to have successful outcomes at the next level.
“One of the main questions I ask when I work with my clients; ‘Is what you’re doing going to translate’?”
“Those are things we have to figure out,” explained O’Sullivan.
“If players have bad habits, those habits have to be eliminated and that’s fine, anyone can point those things out, but I feel the secret to being a good coach is how do you get Player A to fix his problem when Player B also has the same issues, but you have to go after it in a different way because of their personality or the position they play on the ice.”
“I think Greg was able to identify the talent I had and then make sure that I knew that was great and all, but in the NHL everyone is good. So, what are going to do at that level to try to be more effective?”
The Sea Dogs possess some the best young talent in the QMJHL and perhaps across the entire Canadian Hockey League. The big question for Gilbert is can he get all that talent to play as a collective and cohesive unit. It all comes down to accountability, culture and the ability to teach and communicate.
“Greg told me and showed as much as he possibly could what I did that was good, what I did that was bad, and what I needed to do to be a player.”
“I wish I had Greg as a coach when I was sixteen,” O’Sullivan said.
“I needed someone like Greg at that point of my career, because I wasn’t being challenged enough by the players in the league.”
“Greg was able to challenge me and make sure that if I wanted to be a good player at the NHL level there’s just some things you can’t do and you need to be better defensively and learn not to take so many risks and chances.”
“I give him a lot credit,” O’Sullivan said of Gilbert getting him prepared for the National Hockey League.
“Greg was probably frustrated at times with me, but we almost won the entire league with a franchise that was dismal when I was drafted, but when he came, I noticed right away that this is different.”
“We have a real coach, we have somebody that provides structure.”
O’Sullivan fondly remembers Gilbert bringing in long-time NHLer Dave Gagner for skill development which at the time showed how forward thinking the three-time Stanley Cup Champion actually was.
“The smartest people are often open to the most help and interested in the most ideas. Those people aren’t insecure,” O’Sullivan said.
“If I’m a Head Coach in the OHL or QMJHL, I have a lot of responsibilities, maybe I don’t have the time to do the skills work for thirty minutes, three times a week, so I’m going to go out and get someone that’s a really good player or skills coach and let him do it.”
“Greg did that back then and I don’t think it was that common, so I think he was ahead of time in that area as well.”
Patrick O’Sullivan is in a great place in his life and is doing all he can to give back to the game he loves.
“I love where I am at right now.”
“I really enjoy being on the ice with really good players and people who aren’t if they are younger to help figure out how to make them better players and better as an individual,” O’Sullivan said proudly.
What do Greg Gilbert and Patrick O’Sullivan have in common?
An unwavering passion and love for the game and a willingness to do whatever it takes to develop young players and people in hopes of helping them reach their ultimate hockey dreams.