Thursday, January 7, 2016

Saving Bobby Ryan ... a life turned up-side down

By Larry Wigge

After falling down as he crossed the blue line, Bobby Ryan hustled to his feet and took a pretty centering pass, faked to his forehand and then went to his backhand to beat St. Louis Blues goaltender Brian Elliott for an empty-net score.

Ryan scored the game-winner 2:33 into sudden death for a 3-2 Ottawa Senators victory after a brilliant 3-on-3 rush.

"That's exactly the way we drew it up -- fall down, swipe at the puck, get it back somehow ... so the rest of it's pretty easy for me," Ryan kidded about the toe pick that landed him prone on the ice.

Ryan, the Cherry Hill, N.Y., native, finished the night with the game-tying goal -- the 200th of his career -- on a power play at the five minute mark of of third period on a quick snap shot from the right point through a screen. The former second pick overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, tallied his 12th and 13th goals and added an assist on January 4.

Ryan has been a St. Louis Blues killer in his ninth season in the NHL, scoring 17 goals and 30 points in 23 games.

"I like the way they play," he said. "They're a gritty team. They grind, they make you work for it. I've always had success by doing the same dirty work that they do really well, against them."

He scores goals like your typical star hockey player does: Goals with his powerful shot, with his brilliant stickhandling ability or with a scintillating one-on-one moves that take your breath away.

There has always been a mystery cast over star right winger Bobby Ryan. Maybe, you need to get who he is and what he is about. Or maybe, you'd need to have walked in his shoes to know what it feels like to live in the shadows.

Despite the fact the 6-2, 208-pounder was taken by the Anaheim Ducks with the second pick overall in the 2005 NHL Draft -- one pick behind Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby -- and ahead of guys like Carey Price and Anze Kopitar, there is a story about Ryan that was once a deep, dark secret.

Bobby Ryan is just an alias. His real name is Bobby Stevenson.

Ryan, who spent the first 10 years of his life in suburban Philadelphia living with his father as Bobby Stevenson.

Ryan's dad Bob Stevenson Sr., an ex-boxer, beat up his wife Melody. She was left with a fractured skull and broken ribs. The elder Stevenson was charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault. Melody didn't want her husband to go to jail, but the prosecutor went ahead with the charges. Two months later, Stevenson skipped out on the $75,000 bail and fled to El Segundo, Calif. His wife, who worked for an airlines, and son soon followed, establishing a new life and new identity.

As a 12-year-old, you'd be awakened by the ruckus created when U.S. marshals arrest your dad after breaking down the door of your family's apartment ... oh, so many things, to remember.

"It's been a roller coaster, to say the least," Ryan shrugged at all that has gone on with his career.

Brian Burke said of Ryan, "He has a rare combination of size and skill. He's worked very diligently to improve as a hockey player and he's finally getting a chance to come out on center stage and I'm not surprised he's flourished."

But not without help ...

"They told me my baby fat was holding me back," said Ryan, who finished last season at about 228 pounds.

He shed 20 pounds over the summer and reduced his body fat from 17 percent to just over 9 percent.

"It's not that I ate at McDonald's every night, but sometimes I'd eat big portions late at night and I couldn't burn it off," Ryan said.

Ryan also spent hours a day in the weight room and when he arrived at training camp in September he felt stronger, lighter and a step faster.

And he went on to score 30 goals a season four times -- 31 in 2008-09, 35, 34 and 31.

Oddly, Stevenson had been a trainer at Bob Clarke's Gym in Cherry Hill. On the wall just inside the entrance to Bob Clarke's Gym, next to the plaque of NHL pucks, the crossed goalie sticks and the signed Flyers jersey, is a framed picture of a young boy playing hockey.

A young Bobby Ryan.

Clarke said, "He's a big, strong horse with good hands and he can score."

"There are days when you get up and don't want to get up and tie your skates because you're exhausted," says Ryan. "But as hockey players, we're blessed. We get to play a game for a living. You're around 25 guys who grew doing the same thing and have the same goals. There's one common goal in the room and that's the (Stanley) Cup at the end of the year.

From Grades 6-9, Bobby, the Fugitive, was home-schooled.

"It was easy to stay focused because everybody else was at school from 9-3," says Ryan. "The amount of alone time helped. You learn to do things for yourself. My mom worked hard, paying the bills. I was alone quite a bit and learned a lot about getting things done and not procrastinating. I'd reward myself with hockey in the afternoon. I loved it. You can ask any hockey player, there's nothing better than a bucket of pucks, a blank sheet of ice by yourself -- semi-dark in an arena -- it's perfect.

"All my interaction came around hockey. That's why I've always been comfortable around adults. That's who I conversed with all day."

To that end, Ryan started seeing sports psychologist Dana Sinclair. A former hockey player, her words made so much sense.

"She saved my career," Ryan said confidently. "When I started seeing her, I was 18, it was post draft. I wasn't really excited about the game for awhile. I wanted to quit."

Ryan credits Sinclair with the save of his life, even with a kind and gentle pat on the back, saying, "It sounds weird, but getting a pat on the back that you've done well, was big for me. It was reassurance. It's not a motivational thing ... Dana has no problem saying, 'Get your butt in gear,' but she says it in the right way."

Later in life, Ryan was bored playing junior hockey. He learned how to play guitar. He's influenced by the music of Eric Clapton and likes Imagine Dragons, but his favourite is Ray LaMontagne.

Bobby Ryan is just a name in Ottawa. He was traded there in July 5, 2013 for Jakob Silverberg, Stefan Noesen and a first-round pick.

It's strange, Senators fans got to know him better as Robert Ryan -- the name that is on his U.S. passport. It was a name he had to remember to use for fear that his whole world would crumble.

Bobby Ryan has always had a smile on his face in Anaheim or Ottawa. The twists and turns of one so young an age must have been so difficult. But, Ryan thrives in the NHL -- his own little sanctuary.

Melody, his mom, once asked Bobby, how did he want his airline ticket? Bobby Ryan or Bobby Stevenson. He told her that he wanted to be Bobby Ryan.

And so he has been ever since.

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