When your team doesn’t make the NHL playoffs, your summer break is long. Rangers defenseman Rob O’Gara used his time productively.
He got engaged over the summer and did some traveling. But the Nesconset product spent most of his time in Foxborough, Massachusetts, working in the gym and on the ice, getting ready for his third professional hockey season and his first training camp with the Rangers.
“I kind of consider myself a nomad,’’ O’Gara said Friday as the Rangers kicked off training camp with their on-ice testing. “You go from hotel to hotel, my fiancee’s apartment.’’
The nomad effect was even more pronounced because O’Gara’s parents moved this summer, leaving the home O’Gara had lived in since grade school. O’Gara’s younger sister Catie graduated college and moved to Orlando to take a job at Animal Kingdom in Disney World, so O’Gara’s parents became empty-nesters. And they downsized into a home in Hauppauge, one too small to accommodate all of their son’s worldly belongings.
“All my stuff is in boxes in my fiancee’s parents’ basement,’’ O’Gara said.
It’s probably going to have to stay there for a while — at least until O’Gara, 25, figures out where he’s going to be for the immediate and foreseeable future.
The 6-4, 214-pound O’Gara played the final 22 games of last season with the Rangers after being acquired from Boston in a trade for defenseman Nick Holden. But with 18 defensemen invited to training camp — including 31-year-old Adam McQuaid, who was just acquired from Boston on Tuesday — O’Gara has a daunting challenge to make the team this season.
Kevin Shattenkirk, who missed the second half of the season after knee surgery, is back, and he, Brady Skjei, Marc Staal and McQuaid are all but assured of being on the opening night roster. Neal Pionk impressed at the end of last season and free agent Fredrik Claesson, who signed during the summer, seems a pretty good bet to make the club. Brendan Smith struggled last season after signing a big-money free- agent deal a year ago but is hoping for a bounce-back season.
With prospects Libor Hajek and Ryan Lindgren pushing from behind, guys such as O’Gara and Tony DeAngelo are in a dogfight to make the team.
“Yeah. You try not to [think about the competition],’’ O’Gara said, “but I think it’s human nature to say, ‘Oh, boy, 17 other guys fighting for six, seven spots.’ ’’
For now, O’Gara said, he has to try to block out any thoughts of how many defensemen are in camp and instead focus on “just doing my best to do me.’’
“My mom always said to not worry about things I can’t control,’’ he said. “I can’t control what these guys do. I can control how I play, and being mean, I think that’s a big focus point.’’
“Mean’’ is about the last word that comes to mind when one meets the easygoing O’Gara, though.
“That’s the problem,’’ he said with a grin. “That’s what my agent always tells me. He says, ‘You gotta have that part of your game.’ And, you know, Adam McQuaid is a great example of that. He’s the nicest guy I’ve ever met, off the ice. And he is a tough, tough guy on the ice. He is hard to play against. So I think, having him around — having him around the Boston camps the last couple years — it’s really good to have a guy that you can look at and say, ‘That’s how I want to play.’ ”