COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. — Mike O'Connor (Wayzata, Minn.) has been named director of major giving for The USA Hockey Foundation it was announced today.
O’Connor, who has more than 25 years of experience in finance management and fundraising, will lead efforts to raise major gifts to support all Foundation efforts, including growing the game, safety research, as well as varied education initiatives.
“We're extremely pleased to welcome Mike and excited to have someone with his background lead our major giving efforts,” said Pat Kelleher, assistant executive director of development for USA Hockey. “Our focus is on increasing gifts so we can support the growing number of important initiatives related to advancing the sport."
Most recently, O’Connor founded and served as president of Midwest Recovery Fund, LLC., a debt trading company funded through high net worth investor capital. He began his career with Investment Advisers, Inc., ascending the ladder from marketing associate to vice president.
O'Connor holds a degree in business management from the University of Vermont where he was a member of the men's ice hockey team from 1981-85 and earned team most valuable player honors his senior campaign.
He represented the United States on one occasion, that as a member of the 1982 U.S. National Junior Team that competed in the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota.
O'Connor and his wife Tracy are the parents of four children -- sons Keegan and Jack and daughters Shannon and Riley. All four played youth hockey in the Orono (Minn.) Hockey Association where Mike coached for 12 seasons.
With one final blare of the goal horn, it was over. Wiping away more than three decades of IIHF World Championship frustration, Team USA had toppled Russia.
This wasn’t the universally known Miracle on Ice of 1980, but it was a watershed moment, sending a powerful message about USA Hockey on the international stage. What the 1996 United States Men’s National Team accomplished in a 4-3 overtime defeat of Russia in Vienna, Austria, was a step toward more consistent success at the World Championship.
“It was pretty dramatic,” said 1996 team member Tom Chorske. “It was a shorthanded goal by Brian Rolston, so that was pretty incredible. The Russian team was always good, and that was a time just after the heyday of the Red Army teams…so it was a big deal to beat the Russians.”
The win cemented a bronze medal for Team USA – its first medal-finish in the tournament since 1962. In total, the boys in red, white and blue have taken home 10 medals at the World Championship, with three of those being claimed since the 1996 team won bronze.
“After we got that medal, I think guys started to realize there was something to play for,” said Joe Sacco, a forward on the 1996 team and assistant coach of the 2014 U.S. Men’s National Team that competed in Minsk, Belarus. “I think the players don’t understand how important (the World Championship) is to other countries. It’s almost like their Stanley Cup over there. It’s a great tournament and it was a lot of fun. To bring home a medal in the process, the first in 34 years, you leave a mark when do something like that.”
According to Sacco, it wasn’t a star-studded roster; rather it was just a bunch of working-class guys extending their hockey seasons, but that’s what made it work.
“Anytime you are able to get a team to come together quickly as a group, it’s going to help your chances,” said Sacco, who fed Rolston for the eventual game-winner. “It was a lot of blue collared-type attitudes, a lot of good guys and we were all on the same page pretty quickly.”
With Ron Wilson at the helm, Team USA worked its way to the bronze-medal game with preliminary wins over Austria, Germany and Slovakia. A quarterfinal win over Sweden and semifinal loss to the eventual gold medal-winning Czech Republic set up the third-place contest.
Rolston’s goal at 4:48 of overtime sealed it for the Americans. The medal win was 34 years in the making, and it put USA Hockey back on track. That impact wasn’t lost on the players.
“To be on this team was really something,” said Chorske. “It proved that USA Hockey was ascending to be one of the top teams in the world. It was a step forward in our success internationally for a long time to come.”
USA Hockey has been a stepping-stone in the careers of Chorske and Sacco, too.
“I’ve been very fortunate. USA Hockey has been a part of my life since I was 16,” said Sacco, now an assistant coach for the Buffalo Sabres. “USA Hockey has been a part of my development as a player and as a coach. It’s been a really good relationship for both sides.”
Chorske is currently working in the business sector but also serves as a hockey broadcast analyst for Fox Sports North in Minnesota. He is forever grateful for the opportunity to represent his home country.
“USA Hockey is a national community that I’m proud to be a part of,” he said. “All of the friendships I’ve made over the years, with those teams, and getting to play alongside other American star hockey players was a lot of fun. Certainly medaling with two of those national teams (he was also a member of the 1986 U.S. National Junior Team that earned the first-ever IIHF World Junior Championship medal for Team USA), it’s a big part of what made up my hockey career.
“Behind winning the Stanley Cup, one of the most successful moments of my career was with that USA Hockey team at the World Championship.”