O-Dog: 12 Questions With former NHL All-Star and Host of TSN’s Overdrive Jeff O’Neill

You grew up a Leafs fan. Who were some of your favourite players?


I was definitely a Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour fan. Doug Gilmour was like my hero growing up… I tucked my jersey in just like him. I didn’t like using a straight stick, but I used one because of Doug Gilmour. It’s one of the awesome things about having played for the Leafs: my childhood heroes have become my friends. Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour, Darryl Sittler, I’ve become friends with all the guys. It’s quite an amazing thing, because those guys were heroes, they were like gods to me.


You were a first-round draft pick for the (now called) Carolina Hurricanes. Do you remember the moment you knew you were going to the NHL?


I was in a situation where I pretty much knew. The stars had to align and I had to put the work in, but I kind of had a feeling I was going to play in the NHL one day. I didn’t really care where I was. I didn’t really understand how special the meaning was. 


I played 2 years in Hartford, I played 8 years in Carolina, but coming home and playing in a Canadian market was different. Just by going to the rink and being downtown Toronto, or being in a place like Ottawa or Vancouver, anywhere around Canada on a Saturday night, you get a sense of how much it means to people, and how big it is. 


As athletes and hockey players, you don’t realize how big the atmosphere is. You go to the rink a couple of hours early, go to an underground parking lot that leads you right to the dressing room, and you get no sense of the magnitude of the event. After I retired and worked as a broadcaster at games, I finally said “this is so awesome being around all these people and feeling the tension in the air.” That’s just an awesome feeling.


Did you notice a big difference in the media attention you got after switching from Carolina to Toronto?


For the first few years that I was in Carolina, there was one guy that covered the team [laughs]. It was like one guy, and if he kind of went on a bit of a slide, I kept saying to myself “how long is no one going to notice this awful production right now?” 


That’s one of the things people always would ask, is “why would you want to play in a big market like Toronto and deal with all of that?” But that’s part of playing in a great market. I love both cities and playing in both markets, but the difference in media attention is definitely noticeable in Toronto.


Looking back on your NHL career, what accomplishment are you most proud of?


I think helping a team get to a final. We were always the little market team, and it was always the Detroits and Colorados – or teams like that – winning the Stanley Cup. We didn’t do a whole lot, and we weren’t expected to do a whole lot. So just to get one opportunity – although we lost in the finals – on an individual level to score 40 goals was a nice thing for me. Playing in an NHL All-Star game was also nice.


Do you remember what your opinion of sports journalists was when you were a player? Before you got into broadcasting?


I thought they always wanted to kind of put down the players. I always thought they wanted the negative story, which sometimes that might be the case, but for the most part, they just tell the story. If it’s good, it’s good. And if it’s bad, it’s bad. I had to make some friends along the way that I thought would never be my friends, but they’re all basically good people trying to do their job.


You’re currently a co-host on TSN’s Overdrive. Tell us what it’s like going to work with Bryan and Jamie every day?


It’s different. Like any other relationship where you have to sit and chat with somebody for 3 hours a day, we have our moments. 

Everyone thinks it’s a dream job, which it is, but sometimes it’s just a grind, especially through the pandemic. There have been times with no sports, and it’s like you’ve got to figure out something to talk about for 3 hours a day. For the most part, we have a great relationship, and I think we are all lucky to work with each other.


Which one of your co-hosts has the worst taste in fashion?


I think it’s Bryan Hayes. He wears some questionable s**t every day. He wears these undershirts with 3 buttons on them and he thinks they’re cool like dress shirts, and it’s a bad look. He wears some bad golf stuff too, I don’t know… he’s got some tough stuff going on.


Your wife is Korean, and you’ve mentioned before that you’ve been learning the language. How is that going? Is it a difficult language to learn?


Ya, it’s just not happening. I couldn’t even deal with French in high school. Whenever I’m around my wife and her parents and family… I can tell that I was doomed from the beginning. You try to take baby steps, and then you hear them speaking fluently, and you know it’s never going to be in the arsenal. So I kind of gave up on that. I gave it a shot, but it’s just way over my head and I know I’ll never be able to do it.


You’re a girl dad. How has that changed you as a parent?


It’s been awesome. I mean, I thought for sure I would’ve had a boy somewhere along the line, and be going to the rink and doing all the hockey dad stuff. But my 3 girls are definitely a learning experience. They are all very smart, they love their cellphones. They love skateboarding and skiing in the wintertime too. 


In some ways, I’m glad I didn’t end up in a hockey rink. Because sometimes when you’re an NHL kid, you feel like if you don’t make it into the NHL you’re some kind of disappointment. So I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with that.


What are your thoughts on the OHL going ahead with play without body checking? 


I think it’s crazy, and I’m not speaking about this from like a ‘rock-em sock-em’ point of view where you have to bash somebody’s brains in and the game is no good without violence. It’s just not good for the players to go out there and play a sport that has no physical contact in it, because the sport’s not played the right way. 


There’s no connection to safety if you’re going to sit beside guys on the bench for an hour and a half at a time. Football has body contact, the NHL playoffs had body contact, and they resumed play. I actually don’t think they will go through with it, so I hope I’m right on that.


After watching the first few games in the new Canadian division, where do you think the Sens stand? 


I think the Sens are going to be better than people think. They’ve signed a ton of players. I think they solidified their goaltending position, I hope Matt Murray can be their backbone. I love Brady Tkachuk, I think he’s an awesome talent. I love their coach, too. I think he’s a great guy, a great coach, and a great hockey person. They’re definitely going in the right direction. I’m glad they made a statement that this summer they’re not just going to say “ok we’re still 2 or 3 years away”. They’ve added a bunch, they’ve brought in some guys, they’ve brought in some leadership, and they said that maybe next year, or the year after, “we are going to be a force in the NHL”. I think they’re going to surprise a lot of teams in the Canadian division.


What is your best advice for anyone who aspires to achieve a level of success like you have?


My advice for anyone looking to get into broadcasting is that you just have to find an angle on why someone would want to hear what you have to say. I think you just have to be yourself and just find that right angle. When I first started broadcasting, I thought I had to speak like a broadcaster. What that was, I had no idea. I was getting frustrated. After a couple of months, I said, you know what, I’m just going to be myself. I have the advantage of being a former NHL player and a former Leafs player, so maybe people might want to hear what I have to say more than someone who doesn’t have that experience. 


You just have to find that angle. Find what your opinion is and why people would want to hear it.




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