Cougars' O'Brien following big brother's path to WHL

If hometown forward Fischer O’Brien turns out anything like his older brother Brogan, the Prince George Cougars are going to be delighted.

They can always use another big, tough two-way centre who wins face-offs and has an acute sense on the ice to make the right play under pressure to set up a teammate or score a goal. Brogan made a habit of doing all those things in his three seasons with the Cougars.

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“It’s always nice to be able to play in your hometown, there’s lots of people I know here so it’s cool to have the fans, if we ever we have fans this year ,” said Fischer. “Lots of people think we just do almost everything the same. He’s a little bit taller than me.”

Both O’Brien boys were born and raised in Prince George and became property of the Cougars through trades for older players from other WHL teams. Brogan was sent from the Kelowna Rockets at the January 2015 trade deadline for winger Chance Braid, while Fischer traded as a 15-year-old in a May 2019 deal with the Lethbridge Hurricanes for defenceman Tyson Phare, the Cougars 18th-overall choice in the 2017 bantam draft.

“It was definitely a shock for sure, they never really talked to me about it, I just got the call and they told me I was coming home,” said Fischer, the Hurricanes’ fifth-round bantam pick, 98th overall, in 2018.

At six-feet, 161 pounds, 17-year-old Fischer has a lanky frame that’s still filling out, just like his brother did when he joined the Cougars for his 18-year-old season. He has vivid memories of watching Brogan play and he shared countless insights with Fischer about what it’s like to play in the WHL.

“It was cool, he definitely taught me about the league and how it works,” said Fischer. “He went through the same process I’m going through.”

Fischer was on the ice along last week with his WHL Cougar teammates Caden Brown and Aiden Reeves helping the Cougars coaching staff  teach some of the kids who enrolled in the Cougars pro-D day camp a week ago at Kin 2. He remembers going through the Cougars’ hockey school himself when he was eight or nine - half a lifetime ago for Fischer.

The Cougars haven’t played since early March, when the WHL paused and later canceled the season and he has tried to get as much icetime as he can since city arenas opened in August. He’s been working out with his former midget team, the Cariboo Cougars, and also skates in private sessions with Steve O’Rourke, the WHL Cougars director of player development.

The Cougars are tentatively supposed to start the new WHL season in December, but there’s still much uncertainty hanging over the league while the pandemic continues.

“I’m eager to go to camp and get started,” said Fischer, who wrapped up a two-year stint with the Cariboo Cougars, where he put up 12 goals and 26 assists for 38 points in 40 games last season to finish fourth in team scoring.

“Last season was good, I played a lot of minutes,” he said. “We were going into the first round of playoffs and we couldn’t go (because the season was canceled). I think we would have done well.”

Brogan, 23, is back in Ottawa, where he awaits the chance to resume his U Sports hockey career at Carleton University. He put together solid back-to-back seasons the past two years with the Ravens, averaging nearly a point per game over that span with 20 goals and 28 assists for 48 points in 52 games, and had a goal and three assists in four playoff games in February.

Carleton lost the first game of the Ontario University Athletics second-round playoff series 4-3 in triple overtime to the Concordia Stingers, the longest game in OUA history, and were knocked out of the playoffs by the Stingers in Game 2 of the series two days later. Brogan and former Cougar forward Aaron Boyd are back with the Ravens this year for their third year of U Sports eligibility.

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