Kaitlyn O’Brien is Simsbury’s goalie for all seasons

Playing goalie comes with a unique kind of pressure.

That’s exactly why Simsbury’s Kaitlyn O’Brien enjoys it.

“I love the pressure,” O’Brien said. “I love being the last line of defense and having control of the game. I love the feeling that I could make or break a game right now if I make a big save or let this shot in. It’s a great feeling.”

O’Brien truly is Simsbury’s goalie for all seasons.

The senior has been on the varsity ice hockey and lacrosse teams for four years, and joined the field hockey team as a junior, earning All-State honors in her first season.

Playing three sports is difficult enough. Meeting that pressure as a goalie from September to June is on another level.

“I don’t know many people who thrive on that (pressure),” Simsbury field hockey coach Brooke Bulmer said. “She’s in the .1%. It was certainly great to have her the past two years. She saved our hide a number of times.”

“When you carry that pressure on your back for three different teams, it says a lot about you,” Simsbury girls ice hockey coach Dave Olechna said.

“She is so intense and anytime you’re in a tight game, she is excited for it,” girls lacrosse coach Rick Bontatibus said. “She wants to be in there, she wants to be the one taking on the pressure, and that’s unusual. In lacrosse, you’ve got a ball that’s solid rubber flying at you and she doesn’t flinch. She’s just a natural at the position.”

With O’Brien helping to lock things down defensively, the Trojans’ girls ice hockey team is in the midst of another winning season. They are 9-3-2, lead the CCC standings, and are second in the state rankings.

On Wednesday, they ended New Canaan’s 27-game winning streak with a 1-1 tie at Simsbury Farms. O’Brien was outstanding, amassing 51 saves in 53 minutes.

Games against the state’s consistent contenders get O’Brien fired up to play.

“We’ve been battling against those teams for years and those have been our big rivals,” O’Brien said. “We know when we go into those games, it’s going to be a fight. I remember beating Darien and New Canaan my freshman and sophomore years and that was the biggest deal in the world to me.

“And if we lose, you’re on our list. We’re going to come back even harder the next time.”

Of the three sports, O’Brien has played ice hockey the longest. She started when she was five years old, and refers to it as her “one true love.” She has options in all three sports at the college level, but admitted she’d have a hard time staying off the ice.

“It’s that one sport I’ve fallen in love with,” she said. “I love stepping on the ice and taking those shots. But being a goalie and being part of a team is my favorite thing, so I could see myself in any of those sports in college.”

Participating with several teams has also made her an ideal captain.

“She’s a fantastic leader and a great teammate, and I think part of that is because she participates in different sports and works with so many different types of people,” Olechna said. “She basically has to connect with people who don’t necessarily play the same position.”

Bontatibus coached O’Brien when she was in the eight grade and said even then, she was a great communicator.

“She’s never afraid to speak up and for a goalie, that’s huge,” Bontatibus said. “From a leadership standpoint, she has all the attributes because the goalie is a quarterback position, especially in lacrosse. She takes on that challenge.”

While communication is important for all three sports, Bulmer pointed out that the physical and mental aspects of the goalie play is different each season.

“Field hockey is all over, it’s using your feet, using your stick, and diving all over,” Bulmer said. “With ice hockey, you’re down on your knees, you’re sliding. In lacrosse, it’s a stick up high for the most part. You don’t have the body saves like you do in the two hockeys. They’re so different, and she’s nailed all of them.”

O’Brien said repetition is the key.

“It’s getting in the net and getting shots,” O’Brien said. “The natural reaction of stopping a puck or a ball doesn’t go away. It’s helpful to be in those different circumstances and facing the different speeds of shots, but there’s not much I need to change personally going between sports. It’s just getting reps.”

As her senior year progresses, O’Brien is ready for her teams to finish on a high note.

The ice hockey team will be looking to recapture the CCC title after finishing runner-up last winter, and is a contender for its first state championship since 2015. The Trojans were co-champions with CCC rival ETB that season, after winning the state crown outright in 2014.

In lacrosse, Simsbury was a Class M semifinalist last season, and with a strong corps of returning veterans, could be ready to take the next step this spring.

“I don’t want it to end,” O’Brien said. “I feel like I blinked and all of a sudden it’s over. I’ll do the best I can and take advantage of every opportunity I get. I just want to win.”

david.stewart@hearstmediact.com; @dstewartsports