Shane O'Brien Cools Jets in Nashville
"It's a different Shane O'Brien," he said. "I'm waiting for the offseason to explore Nashville a little bit more."
He made the comments as the Predators visited Vancouver for his first game against the Canucks since they traded him at the start of this season. You could say the affable 27-year-old Port Hope, Ont., native, who developed a reputation for partying during two seasons as a Canuck, is trying to be a stay-at-home defenseman off the ice as well as on.
"I have a lot of good friends over there (in the Canucks dressing room) and I had two fun years here, maybe a little bit too much fun at some points," said O'Brien. "But I made a lot of great friends in the city and in the organization ... There's a spot in my heart for Vancouver forever."
Last season, O'Brien's fondness for a certain Vancouver nightspot got him in trouble with Canuck coaches and management. He was exiled for six days in March after he slept in and arrived late for a morning skate, and also failed to keep his weight down.
He had a strong post-season, but when a glut of defensemen made him expendable prior to this season, the Canucks put him on waivers. An irate O'Brien responded by badmouthing coach Alain Vigneault, contending he criticized him in the press while allegedly biting his tongue on other players' misdeeds.
O'Brien was distressed because he thought he was headed for Vancouver's farm team, the Manitoba Moose of the AHL. But his temper cooled when he wound up being traded to Nashville for fellow defenseman Ryan Parent, who is now in the minors.
"Once I got picked up by Nashville, I was all right," said O'Brien. "I wasn't really looking forward to going to Manitoba very much. I was more upset about that than anything. Once I got the call from (Predators general manager) Dave Poile telling me I was going to Nashville, I was over it and excited. But there was three or four days there when I was sitting in this city -- a pretty low point in my career and in my life. But I just worked through it."
Predators coach Barry Trotz, whose club has stayed in the upper echelon of the Western Conference all season, said he had heard all the stories about O'Brien, but they have developed a good relationship with each other.
"He really brings a life in the locker room," said Trotz. "We talked about maintaining the professionalism: There's a time to work and there's a time to play. Don't get the two mixed up ... And trust me, Nashville's a lot smaller than Vancouver, and I've been there a long time. He found out real early that I know a lot about what goes on in Nashville."
O'Brien commended Vigneault for his coaching ability Wednesday, but it was evident there was still no love lost between him and his former bench boss. He lavished praised on Trotz while noting he speaks with him almost daily about life on and off the ice.
On the other hand, he did not speak to Vigneault often.
"My conversations with A.V. were very short, and I didn't really say a whole lot," said O'Brien. "It's completely different."
Another difference: O'Brien, who earned a ticket to the NHL largely through his physical play and fighting ability, is killing more penalties than he is taking. Continuing his trend from last season, he has drastically reduced his penalty minutes. He has also become a regular on Nashville's penalty-killing unit.
"I'm getting softer as I get older here, eh?" said O'Brien. "I've turned into a lover -- not a fighter. I don't know what's going on. I take so much pride in killing penalties that I can't take penalties anymore."
Don't take him too seriously, though, because he doesn't. O'Brien was known for dancing in the Canucks dressing room after a win, and he admitted he goes two-stepping occasionally in the home of country music. But, contending he has learned from his experiences in Vancouver, O'Brien said he has matured.
Perhaps accordingly, he did not take a penalty Wednesday, and he helped blank Vancouver on five power-play opportunities. But he could not stop his old buddy Alex Burrows from scoring the tying goal before the Canucks claimed a 2-1 victory.
"I like giving the gears to him," said Burrows, who banged in a rebound. "When I scored and he was on the ice, it was nice to see."
Burrows and O'Brien also tussled momentarily near the end of the second period.
"I asked Shaner if he was ready for the all-star break -- but I can't say where he's going," Burrows said wryly.
Actually, said O'Brien, there was "no talking" with Burrows on the ice. Before the game, the defenseman had vowed not to do any "chirping" (i.e. trash-talking) with his former mates.
"They've got a lot of good material on me over there," said O'Brien.