Kyle O’Connor (#9) drives the net during a 4-0 loss to the Victoria Royals Oct. 18

Kyle O’Connor (#9) drives the net during a 4-0 loss to the Victoria Royals Oct. 18

Into the sunset

The Kootenay Ice have announced the retirement of 18-year-old forward Kyle O'Connor

Taylor Rocca

The Kootenay Ice have announced the retirement of forward Kyle O’Connor.

The team made the announcement via Twitter Wednesday afternoon.

According to the announcement, O’Connor retired in order to pursue educational opportunities.

“Kyle came in as a 16-year-old and I thought he had a really good year,” said Kootenay Ice head coach Ryan McGill Wednesday afternoon. “I think the expectations for him as a 17-year-old were obviously high. You set the bar fairly high.

“He had some injuries and just didn’t seem to get anything going last year. Coming in this year, I thought he worked hard in the summer to become physically ready and unfortunately he was spinning his wheels a little bit this year, too, with injuries. Just little injuries, nothing big, but just never really seemed to get his feet under him.”

O’Connor, 18, spent his entire WHL career with the Kootenay Ice after the team selected him in the fourth round (83rd overall) of the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft.

“Anytime you lose a guy that you’ve played with for three years, it sucks,” said Kootenay Ice alternate captain Austin Vetterl Wednesday afternoon. “He brings depth to our team. I think, if he had the chance, he could put the puck in the net and move up and down the lineup when we really needed him to. Obviously it sucks to lose a guy like that, but it’s the life of a hockey player. You’ve got to move on.”

The native of Calgary, Alta., suited up in 132 games with the Ice, tallying 10 goals and 12 assists over three seasons.

“He’s a good team guy,” said Kootenay Ice forward Matt Alfaro, also of Calgary, Wednesday. “We’ve been friends for a while and I trained with him in the summer. It’ll be tough. We’ll miss him in the locker room and on the ice.”

The 6-foot-2 forward had a career year in his rookie season (2012-13), registering six goals and 15 points in 70 games.

After his 16-year-old rookie campaign, O’Connor was unable to holster his potential. Injuries slowed his development as he only skated in 42 games with the Ice during the 2013-14 season, battling nagging injuries all season long.

The same remained true this season. O’Connor missed five consecutive games from Nov. 1 to Nov. 19 as he dealt with two separate injuries. He returned to the lineup Nov. 21 against the Lethbridge Hurricanes, suiting up for the team’s three games this past weekend, registering no points and a minus-2 rating. In 20 games this season, O’Connor managed one goal and one assist.

“He had a lot of reflection over the last couple weeks and just feels it’s time to get moving with his schooling,” McGill added. “I commend him for making that decision. I don’t think we ever saw Kyle’s full potential and I was really hoping to see that because at 16, I saw a really big, right-handed centreman that could be a real good player in this league.”

O’Connor is expected to return to Calgary and hopes to begin pursuing a post-secondary education come January 2015.

“The ICE thank Kyle for his contributions to the team, and wish him all the best in his future endeavours,” the team posted on its Twitter account.