Hockey hero O'Sullivan trades blades for patrolman's badge
The latest crop of cadets from the police academy gave a welcome boost to the Boston Police Department, and for NHL buffs, a nifty piece of local trivia. More accustomed to wearing uniforms bearing flames, ducks and Canucks, Dot Native and former NHL Defenseman Chris O'Sullivan is now officially a boy-in-blue.
"It's funny, at graduation [from the Police Academy] I remembered being back at St. Ann's School and remember sitting in first and second grade and having officers come in and everyone was like: That would be cool," O'Sullivan says. "My dream was to become a hockey player, and I got to do that and now I get to be a cop."
But it wasn't as easy as all that for O'Sullivan. As one of eleven children, he was surrounded by family members and by hockey. His older brothers played at Northeastern, and Notre Dame, and St. Anselm, and his sisters played too.
"I grew up with skates on me," he laughs.
His father worked for what was then Boston Edison, and he worked a lot by the time O'Sullivan came around.
"Growing up my father used to have to work 90 hours a week, if not more," O'Sullivan remembers. "He worked underground."
But his father still took his kids to their sibling's games and to Boston University to see the Terriers play.
When it was time to go to high school O'Sullivan packed his bags for Governor Dummer's Academy. People had started to realize he was pretty good on skates.
"When I got to be fourteen, fifteen years old, people were talking about me maybe being able to get drafted," he says. "[It was] the potential you dream of."
But when O'Sullivan was fifteen, his father got sick and died. The oldest son, Kevin, went to work for Edison. O'Sullivan himself came back from Governor Dummer's and went to Catholic Memorial to be closer to his mother. In his first year at the West Roxbury school, his mother was diagnosed with cancer. It was a turbulent year.
"That year was the year I had gotten recruited a lot and was going through that," he says. Without even have to think, O'Sullivan recalls the specifics, good and bad: "My mother died on June 7, 1992, I got drafted on June 21."
Fourteen days to separate the loss of his mother and the announcement of the NHL draft. His was the thirtieth name chosen, making him one of the top thirty players in the country. It was bittersweet at best.
"That was one of the things you wish your parents were around for all of that. You hope for times like that," he says now of the juxtaposition. "It was a great day for my family, but kind of a roller coaster for me personally.
"I'd say looking back, it was obviously one of the toughest things, but going through with eleven of us made it easier," he says. "I couldn't imagine going through a thing like that with only a sister and a brother, or as an only child. It helped to have all of us together."
The O'Sullivan clan persevered, with Chris capturing the high school state championship at Catholic Memorial, and then heading off to Boston University to play for the team he idolized.
"I grew up a BU fan since I was six years old. Before I even began thinking of the NHL, I wanted to play for them," he says. In 1995, his senior season, O'Sullivan turned out an impressive campaign and led the Terriers to a National Championship. "We hadn't won the championship since '78, so be able to do that was really special."
In the playoffs O'Sullivan was the voted the Most Valuable Player. He also racked up a conference all-star award and a Beanpot Title. He still looks back on a team that produced a large handful of NHL players. "There are guys on that team that I am still best friends with."
After graduating, O'Sullivan went onto the NHL, where he suited up for the Calgary Flames. For his first game in 1997 his brothers were sitting in a luxury box in Vancouver. After six seasons of injuries and partial appearances with three teams, and a stint in Switzerland, O'Sullivan retired in 2003. The last game he played just happened to be in Boston.
"It was extra special to step on the ice in Boston and with a lot of close people to me to be able to see me," he says. "It was a very special thing to come back to that building, back to play against the Bruins was always a dream of mine."
After 2003, O'Sullivan came back to Boston to try and return some of the benefits he was able to receive as a kid. He started to help out more with a hockey camp he had started with his sister Stephanie in 1997, the O'Sullivan Hockey Academy. He also helped out for a year at Thayer Academy.
Then a good friend of his told O'Sullivan he was going to sign him up for the police civil service exam, which he took in April 2003.
"Brendan Walsh, a cop over in Southie, he told me he was going to sign me up, so I never actually did it myself." O'Sullivan remembers not being convinced the job was for him, somewhat putting it out of his head. Walsh went onto the academy, and O'Sullivan thought about it again. Then in January 2006, he got a call from his brother to tell him there was a card to attend the academy. It was the nudge he needed. "I got my card in mid-January and I was up in Canada scouting, and that's when it hit me that this was something I was interested in."
He went to the academy last spring, and while he didn't have much trouble with the physical aspects of the training, he did have some issues.
"To me the biggest challenge probably was shutting my mouth," he laughs. "If I disagreed with a coach and, not in a negative way, had suggestions or arguments I would always go into his office and tell him. And that is one thing I learned in this job is you just shut your mouth and do what you are told."
Now O'Sullivan is out on the streets, and while he doesn't have an official assignment-he will learn that Friday -he has been patrolling Downtown Crossing.
"So far I think I've been an information booth," he jokes. "You have veterans and rookies and the biggest thing for me is fitting in again as a rookie in the different profession. For me to go into a different profession, and starting out as the low man on the totem pole, and being wide eyed and trying to learn form experience has been great."
And, no, he hasn't had any cross-checking incidents yet, though the BPD press office does announce "he is a great addition to the hockey team."