Acadie-Bathurst Titan coach Danny Dupont had words of wisdom for Zach O’Brien when he returned to the bench after taking the first penalty of his QMJHL career in a 5-1 loss to the Moncton Wildcats Tuesday.
"I told him that he’s got about 850 more [penalty minutes] to catch me,” Dupont said with a chuckle.
Normally a player taking his first penalty wouldn’t be noteworthy. Except O’Brien, a 20-year-old forward from St. John’s, N.L., hasn’t taken one in 186 previous QMJHL games, including playoffs. The Titan alternate captain is an impact forward who doesn’t shy away from high traffic areas, with 246 career points over three seasons. In fact, O’Brien finished second in QMJHL scoring last season without taking so much as a two-minute minor.
“It’s been a while,” the Titan forward admitted. “The pressure’s off now, definitely.”
According to the QMJHL, the official record for longest penalty-free streak is 181 regular-season games and 192 including playoffs. O'Brien was within reach of those marks. For the record, the penalty O’Brien took was interference, taken at 1:25 of the second period. The Wildcats didn’t score on the man advantage.
“I was in a battle with [Moncton Wildcats defenceman James] Melindy,” O’Brien explained. “He plays tough and he knows me pretty well. I was just trying to battle for position in front of the net and I happened to knock him down.”
Dupont, a QMJHL enforcer during his junior career, felt the call on his team’s top scorer was a soft one.
“I didn’t see it, but to me it could have gone either way,” he said. “It could have gone to Melindy as much as Zach.
“You always wish that [a streak like that] is ended on an obvious call, but at the end of the day, playing hockey it’s going to happen. It’s not the end of the world.
“I was talking to one of the referees; the one that didn’t make the call. He made it a point to come to me to say that it wasn't him going down in history to make that call.”
O’Brien, who said that the last penalty he remembers taking was at the 2009 world under-17 challenge, said that there wasn’t a lot going through his mind after he saw the referee’s arm point skyward.
“I was thinking it was just about time that I got one,” he said. “I guess I was mad, because now my team has to kill a penalty, but I’m not really upset about it.
“I said to the guy in the box that hopefully they don’t score on my first penalty.”
O’Brien sits tied for seventh place in QMJHL scoring with 39 goals and 80 points.
Mike Sanderson is a QMJHL correspondent for Buzzing The Net.