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Kings' O'Sullivan Ready to Skate Beyond His Past

The abuse he endured from his father is well documented, but the 21-year-old just wants to play.

September 14, 2006|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

Patrick O'Sullivan lay on his back, limbs up, looking like a turtle trying to right himself, unable to wipe clean that lobe-to-lobe grin. A heartbeat earlier, he had chipped the puck into the net during one of his first unofficial workouts with Kings teammates.

Good times lay ahead.

This is the new kid on the ice block. The Kings thought enough of O'Sullivan, last season's American Hockey League rookie of the year, to trade Pavol Demitra, their top offensive player, to the Minnesota Wild to get him.

A day after that workout, O'Sullivan, a 6-foot, 180-pound forward, betrayed no emotion as he spoke, using a just-the-facts-ma'am voice. This may be a fresh start, but what he sees as a stale tale is in tow.

Bad days best left behind.

This clear-eyed, fresh-faced, 21-year-old has steamer-trunk-sized baggage he'd prefer to check. His childhood, with the beatings from his father, John O'Sullivan, a former minor league hockey player who would punish his son for playing poorly, is in the past. The story, though, is a constant companion.

"There really is no reason to ask about it anymore, but it would be naive of me to think people don't want to know," O'Sullivan said.

It is a grim tale that landed him in a fish bowl four years ago, when he finally said enough and the story went public. The dominos fell. Cathie Martin, his mother, left her husband. Patrick O'Sullivan filed assault charges against his father. John O'Sullivan was slapped with a restraining order. Newspaper articles, magazine pieces and even a television documentary followed.

Four years have passed and O'Sullivan is not only ready to play hockey, he's ready to talk hockey ... please.

"I do try to separate the situation," O'Sullivan said. "It really has nothing to do with me being a hockey player. What I tell people when I'm asked is it was something in my personal life and I dealt with it. I'm in a much better place now than I was back then."


The 2003 draft was a difficult day for O'Sullivan. Arena security guards were assigned to him for protection. His father showed up in Nashville anyway, sitting across the arena from his estranged family, gesturing, "Why," every time a team passed on his son.

Everyone knew why.

Patrick O'Sullivan's skills developed rapidly. He went from being a 5-year-old stumbling in his father's old equipment to being the Ontario Hockey League's first overall pick with the Mississauga Ice Dogs in less than a decade. He got that good that fast.

But Joe Washkurak, a Mississauga assistant coach and a volunteer co-coordinator for Victim Services with the Toronto police at the time, knew something wasn't right.

He saw John O'Sullivan at every game, though it was sometimes a 12-hour drive. He heard O'Sullivan, at every game, everyone did, as he yelled at his son from the stands.

Said Washkurak: "One night, Patrick came in with bruises on his face and I asked, 'Patrick, what's going on?' He said, 'Joe, you know exactly what's going on.' "

Patrick O'Sullivan had been abused by his father, mentally and physically, since he was 9. On the way home from one game, John O'Sullivan stopped the car and made his son walk the last mile.

Said O'Sullivan: "I guess he thought treating me that way would make me a better hockey player. It got worse as I got older."

It ended in 2002, after O'Sullivan had a so-so night in Ottawa. For more than an hour, as the family headed back to Toronto, John O'Sullivan shouted at his son, telling him his hockey career was over. There was a physical confrontation later that evening. Cathie Martin made the decision to leave, taking her son and two daughters. Patrick O'Sullivan filed charges the next day.

John O'Sullivan pleaded guilty to assault charges and the court granted his son a restraining order -- good only in Canada. Attempts to reach John O'Sullivan for this story were unsuccessful.

Patrick O'Sullivan, meanwhile, has ignored all efforts by his father to re-establish contact.

But the damage lingered at the NHL draft as teams bypassed him.

"I said it then and I stick to it this day, teams had every right to be leery," O'Sullivan said. "All they get is one or two interviews with a player and it's tough to tell what's going on with him."

Still, O'Sullivan said, "I was basically being punished for something that had nothing to do with me. That's something in the back of my mind still, to be able to show some teams they made a mistake."

Draft day was brighter at the end, as O'Sullivan was told Wayne Gretzky wanted to meet him. "You stood up not only for other kids who are abused, but you stood up for yourself," Gretzky told him.

Said O'Sullivan: "He shook my hand and told me he thought I was a good player and not to worry about where I was drafted. He said that wasn't going to matter in the end."

An end is what O'Sullivan seeks, at least to questions about his past.

"The physical things heal, but the mental part, that can get you down. That takes time," Washkurak said.

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