Saturday, April 13, 2013

To Ryan O'Reilly, his family is truly giving

By Larry Wigge

It was point/counterpoint in the eight-month contract dispute between Ryan O'Reilly and the Colorado Avalanche.

Let's use Doug Gilmour, who came into the NHL as a player who used character and skill. Like most youngsters, he used his work ethic to advance himself as a terrific all-around player -- others coming to mind Patrice Bergeron, Rod Brind'Amour, Ryan Getzlaf, Danny Briere and Jordan Staal.

Faceoffs. Hits. Blocked shots. All of the above excelled in each of those qualities.
O'Reilly, at 22, became a budding super star for the Avalanche. Simple as that. We all watched as he was about to take off as a full-blown leader in the NHL. Last season, his third the the NHL, Ryan lead Colorado in scoring with 18 goals and 37 assists -- a quantum leap from his 26 points in each of his first two years.

But ... the Avs still looked at O'Reilly as their No. 3 center -- behind No. 1 guy Matt Duchene and No. 2 guy Paul Stastny. 

It became an awkward situation for the Clinton, Ontario, native, who stepped right into Duchene's position and led the Avs in scoring. It was O'Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog. Things became even more awkward, because Stastny wasn't holding up his part of the bargain -- being overpaid at $6.6 million. 

The argument by the Avalanche was just off. Just plain wrong.

It proved to be on the February 28, when the Calgary Flames signed O'Reilly to an offer sheet. The Flames gave O'Reilly a two-year, $10 million contract -- which dwarfed the two-year, $7 million deal by the Avs or five-year, $17 million offer that they made.

Since the Avalanche matched the offer sheet, O'Reilly has scored four goals and 10 assists in 22 games. Remember this argument. Remember all those names of young, checking centers who became dominant -- Drury should be remembered by Avs fans. 

What I remember most is an interview I did with O'Reilly last spring. I asked him what was the best advice he had ever gotten.

"The best advice my dad gave to me was, 'It's not how people evaluate you, it's how you evaluate yourself. He always taught me to look inside inside myself.' "

This story of the O'Reilly clan is one of substance and loyalty, but most of all, one of love, charity and friendship.

You may not know about the O'Reilly's. But, there's a feel good story there. They foster the lives of others. They have opened their home as part of the Children's Aid Society of Ontario and served as foster parents to some 42 children. 

"It was a crowded house," Ryan O'Reilly said laughing. "But ..."

Their home in Clinton, Ontario, was filled with lot of love. Caring and understanding could be found inside the walls of their basement, which was converted into one big bedroom.

Brian, Ryan's dad, is a high performance life coach. Bonnie, his mom, is a social worker, who is employed by Ryerson College in Toronto. To Cal, his brother, who has also played in the NHL, and Ryan, their father started out as a strength coach. But his real life job includes working for companies with internal psychology and a drug testing counselor. Ask Cal and Ryan about their mother and they will tell you that she is the most competitive member of the family ... and an excellent broomball player as a collegian.

For Brian and Bonnie, their worked with foster kids is special to them -- something important enough the share with their own children.

"They were troubled kids, with lot of issues going on," Ryan explained. "My parents took them in. They were kids that homes don't want. 

"Amazing to see how strong of people they were ... just looking for a chance."

And to Cal and Ryan, they were just a group of extra brothers and sisters to them.

"For the first 14 years of my life there were wall to wall kids around the house," said Ryan, sporting a giant smile about the well-being of those kids. "It always seemed like there were four extra kids ... in addition to Cal."

They O'Reilly brothers never lacked company for endless hockey games. One such foster brother was named Jason Birch.

"Jason loved to go in the net. Once he came to our house, he started playing hockey for the first time and he just fell in love with it," Ryan said. "We'd have 4-on-4 hockey games at home every night. I was lucky to have other kids to play with like that, because it really did make me a better player. In a way, I have some of those kids to thank for where I am today."

The way HE is today.

To Ryan O'Reilly hockey is all good. Still, following Cal, who is 26, and his older friends around when he was growing up became commonplace.

"Cal and I were trained in being good brother and most important good human being by our parents," said Ryan.

So, you can see whatever happens, hockey is only a small part of what happens at the O'Reilly household. 

Cal was the first O'Reilly brother drafted, selected in the fourth round, 150th overall, in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by the Nashville Predators, while Ryan went in the second round, 33rd overall, in the 2009 draft to the Avalanche. 

"What he did I was always there hanging around, typically little brother," Ryan said of Cal. "None of the older fellows complained about me tagging along all the time. When he went to work out, I did too. 

"His commitment to the game -- showed me how much I had to do to get better."

Now, as we said before, it is Ryan O'Reilly's time to shine. At 6-feet, 200 pounds, Ryan has that protypical large lower body. He established himself as the typical rookie center, even though he became the first player since Boston's Patrice Bergeron -- you remember him -- to step right into the NHL from the second round of the draft in 2003. 

Ryan used his skills and patience to become a leader in Colorado. O'Reilly didn't have to shine as a center -- the Avs already had Stastny and first-round pick  Duchene ahead of him. Like most youngsters he used his work ethic to advance himself as a terrific all-around player. 

"He's shown last year that he's got a lot more to his game than being the solid two-way centerman that he's been the past two years," said Landeskog, last year's winner of the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year Gabriel Landeskog his linemate. "He showed us all just how mature he is and how he handles himself on and off the ice ... the way he prepares himself for games. I really look up to him."

Ryan won 52.8 of the faceoffs and led the team with 101 takeaways -- all a part of overall success.

"He's just a very consistent player," said Avalanche coach Joe Sacco. "The players that can play 200-feet, the ones that you can trust as a coach are the ones that are going to get the ice time. He's starting to mature. The last couple of seasons, he was more focused on the defensive side of the game and I think this season he's brought the element of offence into the game. He's one of those players that, as a coach, you can put in any situation."

With his father having worked with Olympic athletes in the past, O'Reilly got an early lesson on what it took to become a professional athlete.

Their are no signs of the work ethic, the level-headed approach to the game waning in Ryan O'Reilly short career. Nor should their be.

Looking back to what kind of life Brian and Bonnie O'Reilly have prepared him for, all systems are on green for this season. One of the most cherished things to Cal and Ryan O'Reilly is the experience their parents have presented to them. They have learned from every single episode in their lives ... from hockey, to being a better brother or sister to their foster relatives.

"I don't know how they do it, but it's amazing," Ryan O'Reilly said of their parents. "It's one of the best things that's ever happened to me. Doing the fostering and being a part of that, it's opened my world to more important things.

"If I'm like that at all, it's only because of my mom and dad."

So, you see, charity and hard work start at home for Ryan O'Reilly. And he is worth every penny he seeks.

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