Donald (Nip, Nipper) O’Hearn
Born: February 14, 1928 (Halifax, Nova Scotia)
Died: January 25, 2015 (St. Catharines, Ontario)
Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame (1997)
Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame (1998)
City of St. Catharines (Ont.) Sports Hall of Fame (2004)
Don (Nip) O’Hearn was a journeyman goaltender whose senior and professional career spanned 16 seasons on a mind-boggling 21 hockey teams.
The 5-foot-11, 170-pound goaltender never played in the NHL, but he did guard the goal in the Eastern Hockey League (EHL), the American Hockey League (AHL), Quebec Hockey League (QHL), International Hockey League (IHL), the Pacific Coast Hockey League (PCHL), and a few more besides.
He spent about half his career in the EHL. In 87 games, he had a goals-against average of 4.04. O’Hearn won Atlantic City Boardwalk Trophy championships in the league with Clinton (1959) and Greensboro (1963).
Early in his career, he was seen as a possible prospect. “The kid is much improved,” Oakland Oaks coach Max Kaminsky in 1949. “It has taken time for him to settle down.” That very night O’Hearn recorded the Oaks’ first shut out in more than two seasons as the San Diego Skyhawks were defeated by 3-0.
His busiest season was 1953-54 when he played in 50 games for the Springfield Indians. He lost 29 of those games, the most by any QHL goalie that season.
Through much of the latter his career, O’Hearn was an emergency goalie called in to fill in for an injured starter, or as a roster change to jolt a slumping team. His junior career included time with the Woodstock (Ont.) Red Wings and the St. Catharines (Ont.) Falcons.
In a career stretching from 1947-48 to 1963-64, O’Hearn wore a chest protector beneath the sweater of the following senior and minor-pro clubs:
Fort Worth Rangers
New Haven Eagles
Halifax St. Marys
Troy Uncle Sam Trojans
New Haven Blades
Niagara Falls Rockets
Fort Wayne Komets
New Haven Blades
Welland (Ont.) Burloaks
He played for teams based in three provinces, 10 states, and the District of Columbia.
In the summer, he played box lacrosse, where he enjoyed much greater success while suiting up for such teams as the St. Catharines Athletics, Peterborough Petes, Peterborough Timbermen, Welland-Crowland Switsons and the Victoria Shamrocks. In boxla, he preferred to take the shots rather than receive them, although he did fill in as a goalie in emergency circumstances. The defender was a member of five Mann Cup championship teams. He was named most valuable player on both coasts. He was inducted into the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1998.
“I played rough, not dirty rough,” O’Hearn once told the St. Catharines Standard. “If you beat me, you knew you beat me and you wouldn’t beat me a second time.”
On Oct. 1, 1951, he scored a goal for the Petes in a 13-4 victory over the Vancouver Combines in the fourth game of the Mann Cup finals. The game is notorious in lacrosse annals for the treacherous conditions at the Vancouver Forum. Boards had been placed atop hockey ice, so the surface became ridiculously slick with moisture as the game progressed. The series was moved to the Kerrisdale Arena, where O’Hearn and his Peterborough teammates captured the championship.
Away from the arena, O’Hearn worked as a security officer for the Ontario Jockey Club. He later worked in the paddock at Flamboro Downs, a racetrack in Dundas, Ont.
In 1998, O’Hearn was hired as assistant equipment manager for the Brock University Badgers hockey team, a post he held for 14 years, by which time he was the oldest staff member in the Canadian Interuniversity Sports. The Badgers have given a scholarship in O’Hearn’s name since 2010.
In retirement, he took a job as a Wal-mart greeter in St. Catharines.