Patrick O’Sullivan Discusses Writing, Abuse and the NHL


After years of abuse, triumph and courage, Patrick O’Sullivan remained brave, making a name for himself in seven seasons in the National Hockey League. Now married and a father of two boys, O’Sullivan, with the help of Gare Joyce, has detailed the abuse he has faced in the early years of his life through words. He sat down with us at Oil on Whyte, discussing his writing, his abuse and his time in the NHL.

In his new book, Breaking Away, O’Sullivan has come out about his early childhood. His father, who hadn’t made it past the minor leagues, put all his energy into beating O’Sullivan, waking him up early, pushing him up against cars after games and even getting into fights with other parents at the rink.

“[My courage] came from my love of hockey-even though I had been dealing with everything because of hockey,” O’Sullivan said. “I loved hockey more than I hated what was happening to me.”

His passion for hockey was also detailed in “Black and Blue,” a piece that he wrote for the Player’s Tribune. The writing process, however, was not a 1-2-3 process; it was actually a combination of 10 months of hard work, taking time off from other things and working with Gare Joyce, a longtime friend of O’Sullivan’s, who oddly enough, knew his father.

“It was more than me,” he explained. “It was a lot more than what I anticipated, and it was thinking about what other people would think when reading it, and making sure those reading got the same thing out of it.”

In regards to Breaking Away, O’Sullivan reminds readers that it is “not just 30 chapters of horror stories.”

“The last third of my book is me going back to find some answers; it was a really interesting process,” he told me. “It separates my book from others of a similar topic. It was difficult of go back and face those who let you down as a kid and process those thoughts and feelings.”

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The issue of abuse is not taken seriously by many. In “Black and Blue,” O’Sullivan mentions how parents recall “getting the belt” and how they turned out fine. It goes so much deeper.

“There are groups of people who refuse to believe that beating the s*** out of your kid is a problem. It’s concerning, and it’s an ignorance factor.”

Also, the book is more than O’Sullivan. His story is not just about himself; it’s about all of the kids facing abuse today. Whether it’s physical, mental, sexual or any type of abuse, it’s all the same in the end. And that’s what he is really trying to address; he’s not looking for pity, but action against a problem that has gone unnoticed in society.

“[Abuse] is a very real problem, and we need someone to stand up and talk about it,” O’Sullivan said. “Those kids facing abuse don’t have a voice. I’m standing up and I’m doing this because no one else is.”

And he’s right. Not many are standing up and speaking out about the abuse that kids face from the ones that are supposed to love them. It’s not just hockey either, as O’Sullivan told me. It is happening to kids playing all other sports, practicing music or even sitting in school desks, trying to make it to the Ivy Leagues. He brought up a statistic from California, where a wealth of high schoolers are committing suicide due to the abuse they face at the hands of their parents.

In order to combat abuse that children face, O’Sullivan doesn’t plan on just speaking out. He is going to act on his words. He plans to start organizations and use his voice to advocate.

“I’m going to speak to organizations and different teams, and I’ve been asked to be a public speaker and keynote speaker for different organizations,” O’Sullivan said. “My goal is to be an advocate of anti-abuse.”

O’Sullivan’s speaking out is a new take on the issue of abuse throughout the world, due to the fact that he can use his voice and actually be heard, unlike your normal every-day kid. He is a former professional athlete, and if he wants to speak, the media will listen.

“I played in the NHL, and that gets eyes and ears. Unfortunately, that’s how you get attention in today’s society.”

He went on to give a rather interesting quote, one that will resonate with many.

“All the damage that’s done is a lifetime sentence.”

What does that quote mean?  Well, when detailing the abuse he faced in his earlier years, O’Sullivan needed to tell people that this wasn’t just a childhood thing. Abuse carries on throughout the child’s entire life.

“When I was five or six years old, it didn’t add up to me why I was being treated the way I was,” he realized. “Not until 25 or 26 did I understand that I had problems- emotional problems I couldn’t control and anger that I couldn’t place. Like I said before, it’s a lifelong thing.”

“Just because the kid moves out, the damage is done while the brain is developing. It took a lot of therapy, money and time, and people do not have those things.”

For O’Sullivan, there is something that can absolutely be done, and “the best thing is not treating but preventing.”

Now a father of two young boys and married, O’Sullivan looks back and knows that he has advice to offer the parents who may have their kids involved in sports, or any other activity that they can build a life on.

“As long as they always keep the kids best interests before their own, they’ll be just fine,” O’Sullivan advised. “Love and be there for your kid. Parents don’t realize that they have a small impact on the kids performance, but they do possess a great negative impact.”

In regards to playing in the NHL, O’Sullivan had good times and bad times. According to him, some of his best years-and funnest years- were his first years with the Los Angeles Kings, which were his best years statistically in the NHL. However, he said that feeling of fun and games soon faded.

“I was dealt at the trade deadline, and that really screwed me up.”

In the 2008-09 season, O’Sullivan was traded to the Edmonton Oilers. At the time, O’Sullivan recalls that the organization was not the best destination, as it was disorganized and overall not helpful.

“I went to an organization that did not have it together, and it brought out my anger,” O’Sullivan said. “S*** hit the fan when I went to Edmonton.”

Eventually, after playing for the Carolina Hurricanes, then the Minnesota Wild in 2010-11, O’Sullivan was placed on waivers. He was sent back to the Houston Aeros- the team he played for in 2005-06, and went into an intense playoff run. However, they lost in game seven of the Calder Cup final. There, he found out how to have fun again: the answer was to let go.

“I gave up on being the player everyone else wanted me to be and had fun,” he said, even though the massive run ended in a hard loss for the Aeros.

He stuck with the minors and played absolutely amazing hockey- due to the fact that he was a true NHL player stuck in a minor league world with kids who were just starting their careers. He realized that it was fun to experience winning for a change after playing with below-average teams in the NHL.

“I was able to let go of my expectations and was able to be what I wanted to be.”

In the end, O’Sullivan also told me that his time with the then- Phoenix Coyotes was fun, and his rookie-of-the-year run in the AHL was rather peculiar, because he still felt as if he was playing in the junior leagues.

“The NHL is a whole different world.”

We then moved on to talking about Alexandre Burrows. The Vancouver Canucks player has not only been under a lot of scrutiny for a lot said in his NHL career, but is now on the hot seat due to the fact that O’Sullivan recalls Burrows telling him that he was going to beat him like his father did. A terrible and classless thing, O’Sullivan gave an interesting response to the situation, when I asked him what he would say if Burrows was in the same room, sitting in front of him.

“That’s a tough question because I wouldn’t want to be in the same room as him,” O’Sullivan answered.  “It’d be a waste of my time- people who do and say things like he does are not well-liked.”

He also added, and I agreed, that Burrows’ apology was not even one; in fact, saying you’re sorry “if” someone was offended.

“If he really felt what he said, he should prove it by volunteering with abused kids.”

There have been opponents  who have been completely ignorant of the situation and are defending Burrows, while being absolutely harsh to O’Sullivan himself.

“Unless you are a die-hard Canucks fan who is blind to the situation, you see the type of guy he is, and I have nothing to say further about it. So to answer your question, if I were in the same room as him, I would get up and walk out.”

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After speaking with O’Sullivan, his courage, triumph and passion goes deeper than what you read online. Hearing him speak, and listening to him discuss abuse, makes me realize that this is a much deeper problem that is often masked within our society. Many do not realize that if they see something, they should say something. And O’Sullivan plans to continue his mission to prevent abuse of kids, whether or not it is the same abuse he faced.