December 1, 2016
Coaches sometimes turn a blind eye to statistics and how it relates to evaluating their players.
But then on occasion there are some numbers that are just too hard to ignore.
That’s Danny O’Donnell of the Great Falls Americans, a hockey player whose offensive ability would be incredibly impressive for a forward yet is even more eye-popping when you consider he’s actually a defenseman.
“He’s played at a high level,” Great Falls head coach Jeff Heimel said. “He’s definitely a huge asset. I don’t think we’ve had a guy that has been as offensive as he is for a defenseman before.”
O’Donnell leads the team in points with 12 goals and 23 assists. Thirty-five points in 20 games as a defenseman.
In front of several hundred fans, the Americans bludgeoned the Glacier Nationals 14-0 Thursday night at the Great Falls IcePlex, improving to 14-3-1-2 on the season, to remain in second place in the NA3HL’s Frontier Division.
Jesse Johnson and Cameron Cunningham each scored twice. Great Falls net minder Nick Nast notched the shutout, stopping just 12 shots.
“It’s nice to see us trending in the right direction,” said Heimel, whose squad has lost only once in its last nine contests, which was in a shootout.
O’Donnell continues to wield a team-best plus-minus rating, which has now swelled to plus-39. Fewer than four minutes in Thursday night, he scored on the penalty kill. He added two assists.
When he’s on the ice, his impact on offense is not only apparent by the amount of goals the team scores but also by the flurry of shots it generates.
It’s all come within the system, within what the team wants to accomplish in its game plan, Heimel said.
“We kind of turn him loose offensively and let him have some fun and use his skill and his ability,” the head coach said.
Heimel was asked if he’s considered moving O’Donnell to forward.
“If he’s producing as much as he is at that position,” Hemiel said, “there’s just no point for me to move him. I think he gets plenty of offensive opportunities. He rushes the puck plenty. He plays on the power play. Truthfully, I don’t think we have the depth defensively to make that move.”
O’Donnell, 20, is from Ventura, Calif., in his first season with the Americans and in his final year of junior hockey. He’s 6-foot-2, 185 pounds and shoots from the southpaw side.
“He has great feet, good puck handling, shoots well, good vision,” Heimel said. “And obviously he’s big, so he uses his size to his advantage and protects the puck well.”
Heimel said O’Donnell, even going back to his days in Midgets, Bantams and so on, has consistently brought offense along the blue line. But it’s in other facets of the game where O’Donnell has progressed since arriving in the Electric City.
“If anything, his defending has gone up,” Heimel said. “I felt like when he got here, it was just all offense, something that he brought immediately to the table. I think he’s become a more complete player.”
Story Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune: O’Donnell, Americans skate past Glacier (December 1, 2016)