Mike O’Brien was the heart, soul and passion of the game that took over Brighton and Hove in the golden area of Ice Hockey. With so many Canadian stationed here during and after the War hockey fans got used to watching quality hockey, as there was precious little being played back in North America during the second global conflict.
Mike played for the GB national team with outstanding success regardless of the fact he was Irish. Born in County Clare on July 10th 1933. Ireland’s loss was certainly UK’s and Brighton’s gain.
Mike could with his enthusiasm for the sport could certainly turned more than a few heads away from hurling and other GAA games. Instead followed his parents to Brighton at the age of three together with his Aunt.
In the early days Mike learned to skate in Brighton moving on to Tiger Cubs at the age of thirteen, growing in skill he rose to the Sussex Tigers which was the intermediate squad then finally signed with the Senior Tigers at the grand old age of sixteen
In those days Mike was paid the princely sum of two pounds a game, which certainly was not to dismissed. O’Brien was one of the very few UK trained players to hold down a regular position in British pro hockey in the Canadian dominated 1950s. He learnt his hockey skills at the Brighton Sports Stadium, totalling 211 points in UK his professional era.
His pro career began in 1951 with Brighton Tigers with the most productive campaign in 1954/55 yielding 38 goals and 24 assists. Two winters later, he player-coached in Switzerland, first with Fribourg and next year at Grindlewald.
Returning from the Continent in late February 1958, he contributed three goals and five assists as Brighton clinched the BNL title. Next winter Mike potted ten goals, including a trio against Paisley in December, to add an Autumn Cup medal to his collection. His game-winning goal against Paisley in spring 1960 helped his team into the final of the BNL play-off, which Tigers won.
Mike spent the next two years with the near all amateur and multi-cup winning Tigers, amassing 96 goals and 84 assists in ‘Home Tournaments’. He was named to the second ‘All-Star’ team in spring 1962. Next season he coached Yverdon of the Swiss 1st Division.
Now nearer the veteran stage he returned to British ice in late March 1966 with Wembley Lions in their challenge match series, and once twelve months later for the homeless Tigers.
Mike was certainly an out and out centreman but could play anywhere on the ice as he often did playing with a right hand shot, although he was often used as winger in the late 1950s at Brighton.
O’Brien scored seven times in his first Pool B World Championship for Britain in 1952 and was also selected the following winter. Eight years passed before GB again entered World play. In Switzerland Mike collected four points to help Britain to a silver medal.
This writer knows first hand what a player Mike was. As a young Canadian still wet behind the ears I played on a line with him when the Tigers were renamed Sussex Senators. Winning the Championship during the two years we were formed.
Top Rank in their infinite wisdom closed the Ice Pad at the Brighton Centre at the bottom of West Street with O’Brien Captaining his team to two Championships and was looking for a third hoping to save the rink.
On Oct 19th 1972 almost six years to the day that the Brighton Sports Stadium shut its door with the promise of a new rink coming the doors were closed to Top Rank Ring and never opened again.
It was the first time since 1935 Brighton and Hove were Iceless.
Mike is still involved in teaching and coaching the game in it’s various forms. Stewart Roberts another Brighton lad who followed the game and managed various teams that grew out of the town has reportedly obtained a Swiss Investors, who is looking to build an Ice Pad and Leisure complex in the Blackrock Swimming Pool site near the Marina.
So often has that statement been made about locations and people to numerous to list? They obviously never travelled to Nottingham or Sheffield who sell out every time they play each other. Nor to Belfast, Cardiff, and Manchester to name but a few. Dancing on ice makes it difficult to keep ice skates in stock in those and many other town and cities in the UK
Mike stated in conclusion. I can remember the days when the fans queued for hours outside of the Brighton SS just to get in to see the Tigers play. So if there are going to build another rink it has to be quick now that a lot of the Old Tigers are now playing the game they all loved and made so popular in Brighton icing in the Stadium in Heaven an enjoying every minute of the game.