Port Jefferson's Daniel O'Donoghue is on the ballot for Hobey Baker Award

Daniel O'Donoghue of Port Jefferson plays in an Daniel O'Donoghue of Port Jefferson plays in an NCAA men's hockey game for Mercyhurst College. Photo Credit: Handout

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Daniel O'Donoghue has come a long way from the roller hockey rinks of eastern Long Island.

Now a senior forward playing for Mercyhurst College in Erie, Penn., the Port Jefferson native is on the ballot for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the nation's best NCAA hockey player.

"I'm proud of myself," O'Donoghue said, adding that his nomination fulfills "a personal goal I set for myself before the year."

Given that the criteria for the award include "strength of character," as well as "outstanding skills in all phases of the game," it is not hard to see why O'Donoghue is being considered.

"Most guys either lead by example or lead by saying the right things," said Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin. "Danny does both." Strength of character? Check.

Gotkin said O'Donoghue is a "big, strong kid who skates well" and is "strong on the puck." O'Donoghue, one of the team's captains, plays on both the power play and penalty-kill units, and was named the team's top defensive forward two seasons ago.

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This year, he is tied for 10th in Division I hockey in points with 30 -- he has 10 goals and 20 assists.

Outstanding skills in all phases of the game? Check that box, too.

Although O'Donoghue has spent the last four years playing Division I hockey and has also participated in NHL summer camps, he still credits his time playing youth hockey with his friends for making him a better player.

"I never thought it would come to this," O'Donoghue said. "Great friends and great family helped me become the person I am today."

In additional to invaluable support from his parents and siblings, O'Donoghue's childhood friends play a big role in his story.

O'Donoghue says he was part of a group of 10 friends who played together from when they were eight years old until their senior year of high school.

"I credit a lot my success to those guys," O'Donoghue says.

The group made the move from roller hockey to ice hockey when they were 12, and then began competing for a youth travel team, the Long Island Rebels. With O'Donoghue and his buddies, the Rebels won three state championships.

In 2007, the group made the move from to the Long Island Royals of the Atlantic Youth Hockey League, and the next year, they laced up for the New York Bobcats of the Atlantic Junior Hockey League.

"We were not the most skilled team," O'Donoghue says, "but we had a lot of chemistry playing together over the years."

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During his senior year, O'Donoghue played a season in the United States Hockey League for the Des Moines Buccaneers before enrolling at Mercyhurst in the fall of 2010.

O'Donoghue has 40 goals and 66 assists in his collegiate career, and his skills have caught the attention of NHL teams.

He has spent each of the last three summers in the prospect developmental camps of NHL clubs, spending the summer of 2011 with the Islanders, 2012 with the Washington Capitals, and last summer with the Calgary Flames.

O'Donoghue says his time in the professional camps has given him the confidence that he can play at the next level.

Previous camp teammates have gotten calls from NHL teams, and O'Donoghue says he has begun to "realize I'm just as good or better than these guys."

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Whether or not O'Donoghue's next step involves playing hockey at the highest level, he has maintained the mind-set he had at the start of his journey, as an eight-year-old playing with his friends.

"Hockey was meant to be fun and if you're not having fun, there's no point."

Fans can vote for O'Donoghue at hobeybaker.com.

The field will be narrowed down from 68 to 10 on March 2, and from 10 to three April 2.

The winner will be announced April 11.

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