Kieran O’Hearn didn’t see it coming.
It was an early morning in late October, his Trail Smoke Eaters having just returned home from a road trip the night before.
O’Hearn’s phone buzzed. His coach wanted to talk to him.
So off the defenceman went to the rink, where upon arrival he was told that he had been traded from the only BC Hockey League team he had ever played for, having been part of the organization since a seven-game audition during the 2017-18 season.
Hearing you’ve been traded is rarely something a player welcomes, so O’Hearn was understandably nervous to find out where he was headed. After all, in junior ‘A’ hockey, trades between provincial leagues are common; he could be headed anywhere from the Lower Mainland to northern Ontario.
Turns out, he was headed home, having been acquired by his hometown Surrey Eagles in a trade for Eagles’ captain Cody Schiavon.
“It was definitely out of the blue. I didn’t expect it at all. It was a shock, but that’s part of hockey,” O’Hearn told Peace Arch News.
“Any time you hear that you’re getting traded, your first thought is, ‘OK, where am I going?’ But finding out you’re going home, there’s no better feeling than that. It was a really cool feeling, knowing that I was getting to play in the same rink where I watched so many other (Eagles) play.”
O’Hearn grew up in North Delta – he played with the Delta Hockey Academy before signing with the Smoke Eaters – but moved to South Surrey when he was in high school. He still has vivid memories of following the Eagles’ run to the RBC national championship tournament in 2013, and said it was “definitely pretty cool” when he finally got to put on an Eagles jersey himself.
“When you’re young, you look at the guys who play junior hockey and they’re like celebrities. All I wanted to do was be in their shoes and be where they were as players,” he explained.
“So even though I’d never been traded before, to come here, I think it’s been a blessing in disguise.”
After receiving the news that he’d be dealt, the first calls he made were to his parents, Jennifer and Daniel.
“My dad was my first call. He’s definitely the one I talk to about hockey the most, and he follows (the league) closely… and everyone was really happy and excited.
“Especially my mom – she’s happy to have me back home.”
Having moved to Trail at 18 years old, O’Hearn had spent the last two years living with billets, whom he credited for making such a big adjustment a smooth one. But time away from home, he said, only made him realize how much he missed it. He’s now back living with his parents, just five minutes away from South Surrey Arena.
“My billets were great. That first year, they helped me (adjust) and just welcomed me with open arms, and made it just a great experience,” he said.
“But everything is just easier when you’re at home. Getting to live at home, have home-cooked meals. It’s maybe something you don’t always appreciate (until you leave), but it’s been great.”
TRADE: The Eagles have traded captain and defenseman Cody Schiavon (00) to the @BCHLSmokeEaters for defenseman Kieran O'Hearn (00) and forward Liam Freeborn (99).
— Surrey Eagles (@SurreyEagles) October 25, 2019
On the ice, the adjustment to a new team has been smooth one, too. It helps that Eagles’ head coach Cam Keith is very familiar with O’Hearn, having originally recruited him to play for Trail when he was the coach there.
Now in Surrey, and with a few seasons of experience under his belt, O’Hearn has been given a large role on the team, and he’s excelling. He’s been steady defensively, and even started to chip in on offence, with two goals and 10 assists in 24 games with the team – both of which are career highs.
“He’s one of our most reliable defencemen – in the whole league even, I’d say,” said Eagles general manager Blaine Neufeld. “He’s in the upper echelon of defencemen in the (BCHL). Every night, you know what you’re going to be getting, and that’s a hard-nosed hockey game from him.
“Whats been exciting along the way is seeing how much he’s added offensively to our group. Cam has had him before and knew him very well, and has used him in many different ways. It’s been really exciting to see him develop over the last couple years in our league and then take some real big steps now.”
“I’ve got more of an opportunity here, and I know Cam has confidence in me, so that really helps. It’s been an easy transition,” O’Hearn added.
Playing for the Eagles has also given the 19-year-old the opportunity to play more often in front of his family and friends, which he relishes. With the exception of the odd Lower Mainland road trip, his parents, he said, would only get to see him play when they’d travel to Trail for the team’s annual ‘Parents Weekend’ plus maybe one other weekend trip.
Now, they’re in the stands every night.
“It’s awesome, I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s great to have your family there every game – it’s a really cool feeling,” he said.
What he’s really looking forward to, however, is getting to skate on home ice for a playoff game. The Eagles missed the playoffs last season, and qualified only once in the last five years. This season, the Birds are firmly entrenched in a playoff spot, and more likely than not to be playing in the BCHL’s first round of the postseason.
“The team hasn’t had the best seasons the last two, three years, but I see it trending upwards in a big way,” O’Hearn said.
“I’m really looking forward to the playoffs, and I think this team can do something pretty special.
“You always want to see your hometown team do well, and when you can be a part of it, that’s a pretty cool feeling.”