Wyatt O'Neil & Warren O'Neil: Like Father, Like Son
By Tim Law
They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and, so is the case with Wyatt O’Neil, who is enjoying a spectacular rookie season with the Essex 73’s.
Wyatt is the son of former 73’s player, Warren O’Neil who also broke into junior hockey as a 15-year old, and accumulated a total of 191 games as a player with the 73’s. He was known as a great skater and possessed a wicked slap shot, and a knack for playmaking as well.
The younger O Neil came to camp as a 15-year old with intentions to carry on the family name and win a spot where his father played for five seasons from 1983-84 to 1987-88, that included two Great Lakes league titles, 2 OHA playoff appearances, along the way to being named a 3-time winner of the Ed Chevalier Trophy, awarded to the Essex 73’s Most Sportsmanlike player.
Wyatt O’Neil was born in Windsor on October 12, 2001 and lives with his family in nearby Maidstone, Ontario.
O’Neil is second in team scoring on the 73’s with 31 points in 32 games equating to nearly one point per game average. He has 13 goals and 18 assists. O’Neil has been a bright light offensively for the 73’s this season, and he’s scored five game winning goals thus far this season. It’s consistent play like this all year which is adding up to making him one of the highest touted rookies currently playing in the Stobbs Division of the PJHL.
The right winger knew from his earliest days in minor hockey in Essex he wanted to be a ‘73’ like his father.
Following a tryout in September with the Junior B LaSalle Vipers, O’Neil fell just short of making that team, but immediately earned a spot on the 73’s which still provided him with a sense of reward to play for a team he always dreamed of playing for.
“There was really no other option for me in terms of where I would want to play at this level ,” says O’Neil. “With dad, I knew the tradition and expectations that is carried here. It’s just a great place to play.”
Wyatt O'Neil is enjoying a fantastic rookie season in Essex, following in the footsteps of his father, Warren, who played with the 73's as a 15-year old himself back in '83-84. Photo courtesy LAURIE BEATEN
O’Neil’s early success is a result of hard work and he has quickly gained the respect of his teammates, as well as his coaches, with his solid performance, night after night, as well as a proven work ethic in practices.
“What clearly surprised me the most is his skills and abilities he has right now at his age that I could compare to an older veteran player on our team or this league that’s been around a while,” admits assistant General Manager Steve Caldwell. “He’s been able to take on responsibilities, like contributing on the power play, or just being a leader out there in a game situation, or even in practice. He clearly shows he wants to be here and do a great job. And he shows it every night. It’s in the genes I guess,” jokes Caldwell, referring the elder O’Neil.
O’Neil’s reputation is spreading like wild fire among local scouts who are constantly searching for talent like his at this age and level.
“Getting to Junior B would be a great accomplishment for me, of course”, says O’Neil. “But it takes work and trying every
game to improve my skills to get to that next level. But for me right now, I’m a 73 and like everyone on this team my focus is winning a Schmalz Cup championship.”
O’Neil went on to say, “Obviously, my dad has been a great teacher and inspiration, but I also owe a lot to coach (Cam) Crowder. He has really helped me in my development as a player here.”
As O’Neil prepares for the final leg of the regular season along with his teammates, and with the playoffs right around the corner, he knows it will take a team effort for this year’s squad to reach their ultimate goal of an All-Ontario Championship, but he feels this particular dressing room has a lot of heart and guts to do it.
“This is one of the best teams I’ve ever played on, to be honest,” says O’Neil. “There’s a great chemistry in our room. We’ve had some great games and some bad ones along the way so far, we know that, but I can tell you there isn’t one guy in that room that doesn’t give it 100% and wants to win. That’s what it’s all about playing for the 73’s.”