By Larry Wigge
Ever since Ryan O'Reilly entered the NHL as a second-round pick, 33rd overall, in the 2009 Entry Draft, he has been trying to prove to everyone that he was a premier center.
Unfortunately for the 6-foot, 200-pounder from Clinton, Ontario, he has had Paul Stastny and Matt Duchesne and later Duchesne and Nathan MacKinnon for ice time -- leaving him No. 3 center ice time.
In Denver, O'Reilly had to fight recognition.
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.
In 2013-14, he poured in 28 goals and 38 assists to finish third among the Colorado Avalanche in scoring behind Duchesne and Gabriel Landeskog in scoring. But, he always had the salary -- two years at $3.575 million -- that he held out that caused him to miss 13 games at the start of 2013.
It was like he was being held hostage for earning that kind of contract theoretically.
But in June, he was traded with Jamie McGinn for Nikita Zadorov and Mikhail Grigorenko. Not exactly what you would expect for such a productive second- or third-line center for the first six years of his career.
The Sabres quickly rewarded O'Reilly a seven-year, $52.5 million contract -- along with plenty of No. 1 center ice time.
"It's a relief coming to camp. It's just nice to kind of get on the ice and kind of focus on hockey, which is the most important thing for me," said the 24-year-old center.
Less than two weeks later, Ryan O'Reilly was arrested and charged with impaired driving and leaving the scene of an accident after allegedly driving his vintage pickup truck into the side of a Tim Hortons coffee shop near London, Ontario.
But that led to the season -- and a relief for O'Reilly.
O’Reilly has been carving his reputation as a hard worker and standout. He contributed a team-leading seven goals and nine assists in his first 19 games. He was also leading the NHL in takeaways, shooting for a fourth consecutive season leading the league in that category.
He also ranked first in the NHL in power-play points (seven), faceoff wins (160 for a 59 percent success rate) and ice time among forwards (21:32 per game).
"Coming here and seeing what they expected me to be, I have to be hard on myself," O’Reilly said. "On teams previous, I don't think my role was as big, so here being brought in to be seen as one of those key guys offensively, I think there’s more pressure on myself, which I enjoy, but at the same time I have to be better."
Who gave him his best advice?
"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. Ryan's brother Cal, who has played in the NHL for Nashville, Phoenix and Pittsburgh.
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.
"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.
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.
"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 three years," said Landeskog. "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."
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.