NORTH RICHLAND HILLS, TX — Former Brahmas alternate captain and Robertson Cup Champion Austin O’Rourke has announced his commitment to play NCAA Division I hockey at the University of Massachusetts Lowell for the 2018-19 season.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound forward played 89 games for the Lone Star Brahmas after being drafted by the organization in the summer of 2016. He amassed 39 points in those 89 games before being part of a blockbuster NAHL South trade with the Amarillo Bulls. Since joining the Bulls, O’Rourke has three goals and four assists in 12 games.
Brahmas Head Coach Dan Wildfong was pleased to hear about O’Rourke’s commitment. “I think it’s great. Obviously he worked hard to get a commitment. We talked about how we didn’t want to make that trade but you’ve got to give something to get something, and we’re really proud and happy for him.”
With this season being his last year of junior eligibility, O’Rourke was glad to lock down his college commitment. “It’s an unbelievable feeling, actually,” he said. “For me, the past five years playing junior, it’s been kind of an uneasy feeling every year, just trying to figure out where you’re going to go next. There’s so many different options and different ways to get to the same destination because there’s so many different leagues and teams, and there’s no one way to get somewhere.”
O’Rourke’s journey has taken him through the EHL in his early years of junior hockey, a stint in the AJHL with the Lloydminster Bobcats in which the team made it to the league final, and of course, his time in the NAHL.
“Playing in Brahmaland kind of humbled me a bit. Playing in Canada the year before I ended up being the go-to guy in the national tournament there and I thought that coming down here I’d do the same kind of stuff and when I got here it wasn’t as easy. It was actually really tough,” O’Rourke said.
“I wasn’t the best player [on the Brahmas] by any stretch of the imagination and I had to grow as a person and realize my shortcomings and how to work within a team system to still get the most out of myself as well as helping the team win, so that was probably my biggest takeaway from Lone Star.”
This year, O’Rourke took another step forward and welcomed the chance to take on a different role. “I was actually relied on for things. I wasn’t just another guy going out and hitting things and trying create energy for the team, I was actually putting the puck in the net every once in a while and playing power play and playing penalty kill, and you know, things that I didn’t do as much last year. So kind of just taking a bigger role was huge.”
He’s certainly risen to the occasion, having already equaled his point total from last year in two-thirds of the time. Clearly, his hard work and competitive spirit have paid off dividends with his commitment to UMass Lowell.
“To finally know that I’m going to Lowell and that I’m going to play there and help compete and make the team better in whatever way I can there is nice,” O’Rourke said.
As it happens, Massachusetts Lowell has always been in the back of O’Rourke’s mind as a possible destination. “It’s somewhere I’ve wanted to go for a long time,” he said.
“I went on a visit there as a high school senior with my dad and we just walked around a bit. He actually refereed in the building because it used to be an AHL building and so he walked me around downstairs and we kind of did our own little tour. I never thought that I’d get the chance to play there so when the opportunity came I jumped at it.”
The opportunity is well-deserved. O’Rourke has been lauded by his coaches and teammates for his work ethic and character both on and off the ice.
O’Rourke will be beginning his NCAA journey with UMass Lowell after this season. That, of course, includes going back to being a full-time student. Unsurprisingly, O’Rourke has a goal and the willingness to work to achieve it.
“I’m going to try to get into their Business Administration/Management concentration,” O’Rourke said. He also plans to pick up a minor in Marketing.
He’ll finish his junior career with Amarillo before heading to Massachusetts, and he’ll be back in Brahmaland one final time as the Bulls come to town in Lone Star’s final home games of the regular season.
O’Rourke was certainly a fan favorite in his time with the Brahmas, and he’ll be welcomed back with open arms — at least until the puck drops. When that happens, it’s likely that he’ll do what he always somehow manages to do: He’ll own the big moment.
This is the player who, last season, came up big during the game the Brahmas honored former CHL champion Justin Kinnunen with a game-winning goal and a rousing fight, the player who deflected the series-clinching overtime goal against Wichita Falls in the last game the franchise ever played, the player who gave the team some breathing room and insurance in the Robertson Cup Final when he scored to make it 2-0 en route to the win.
With that in mind, be ready for a show when O’Rourke returns to the Shoebox — and be ready for him to seize plenty of moments for the River Hawks in the years to come, too.