Patrick O’Sullivan’s story is one of survival.
The former first overall pick in the Ontario Hockey League draft, world junior gold medalist, and veteran of 334 National Hockey League games, opened up on the years of abuse he suffered at the hands of his father, John O’Sullivan, in his book Breaking Away: A Harrowing True Story of Resilience, Courage and Triumph.
It is a story that is difficult to read, but it is important. There were beatings. Daily beatings, training regimens far too extreme for a child, and the ever-present abusive force that was his father, screaming, banging on the glass, and brawling with other parents at his son’s youth hockey games.
O’Sullivan took to the Players’ Tribune to share his story of growing up with an abusive parent Wednesday.
Here are several excerpts from O’Sullivan’s piece.
On what he endured:
From the moment I got my first pair of hockey skates at five years old, I got the living s— kicked out of me every single day. Every day after hockey, no matter how many goals I scored, he would hit me. The man was 6-foot-2, 250 lbs. It would start as soon as we got in the car, and sometimes right out in the parking lot.
By the time I was 10, it got worse. He would put cigarettes out on me. Choke me. Throw full soda cans at my head. Every time I stepped on the ice, I knew that my play would determine just how bad I got it when we got home. I’d score a hat trick, and afterward we’d get in the car and he would tell me that I played “like a f—-t” (that was his favorite term, which says a lot).
On hockey as his sanctuary:
The thing is, my success had nothing to do with my father’s over-the-top training regimens. The ice was my safe space. The two hours I had out there was the only time I truly felt free. When I stepped onto the ice, he couldn’t touch me. Everything became easy.
Actually, the main reason I was scared to tell anybody about the abuse when I was young was because I thought my father would find a way to take away the only thing I loved — playing hockey.
The real reason he made it:
You know why I made it to the NHL?
Because on the weekends, I’d get as far away from him as I could. I would stay out of the house all day by myself, with nothing but a hockey stick and a ball. Deking, deking, deking. Shooting, shooting, shooting. Over and over and over until the stick became an extension of my body.
That’s it. That’s why I made it.
On what it takes and when parents go too far:
Either you have it or you don’t. Screaming at your kid in the car on the way to a hockey game isn’t going to get them to the next level. Having a 12-year-old kid run six miles after practice isn’t going to turn them into Jonathan Toews.
You know when you actually get good at sports? When you’re having fun and being creative. When you’re being a kid. When you don’t even realize you’re getting better, that’s when you’re getting better. If you’re not engaged in what you’re doing, it’s as helpful as taking the trash out. It’s just another chore.
On why he’s telling his story:
I’m not writing this article for my father. I’m writing it for the people in the parking lot.
Yes, if you say something, you may ruin the relationship you have with that person. You may get embarrassed in front of the other hockey parents. You may have to go through the awkwardness of filing a police report.
I can understand why a lot of people worry, “But what if I’m wrong?”
If you are wrong, that’s the absolute best case scenario. The alternative is that child is a prisoner in his own home. What you’re seeing in the parking lot or outside the locker room — whether it’s a kid getting grabbed and screamed at, or shoved up against a car — could just be the tip of the iceberg.