Update July 16 – Senators’ forward Bobby Ryan named one of three Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy finalists by members of the PHWA. Ryan also becomes the second Ottawa Senator in recent years to be nominated as a finalist.
Goaltender Craig Anderson won the award in 2017. Anderson was a key member of the Senators’ team that went to the Eastern Conference Final. The club rallied around Anderson who took leaves of absence to be with his wife, Nicholle who was battling a rare form of throat cancer.
Ryan joins Dallas Stars d-man Stephen Johns and Philadelphia Flyer winger Oskar Lindblom as finalists for the trophy awarded to the player “who exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey.”
Johns returned to the Stars lineup January 18 after being out of hockey for 22 months while dealing with post-traumatic headaches and post-concussion syndrome. Upon his return to the Stars blue line, the 28-year old has become a fixture on the club’s second pairing.
With 11 goals, 18 points in 30 games, Lindblom was well on his way to eclipse his career highs of 17 and 33 respectively when he was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a form of bone cancer. The Flyers forward recently completed his chemotherapy treatment at the University of Pennsylvania.
On a Zoom call Thursday afternoon Ryan spoke about almost waiting until the end of the season before entering the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse Program and paying it forward.
“I didn’t want to share the story at all, of I’m being completely honest. In a perfect world, I would’ve gone at the end of the hockey season – done it quietly. The team would’ve known and I would’ve known, and I would’ve gotten the help I needed. I’ve learned you couldn’t control those things. I knew I hit my breaking point on the ice in Detroit. I said I can’t not go right now. If I don’t go, I’m not going to go. I’m glad I did. I had thought about it for a week leading up to that. I thought I needed to do this. I avoided that as long as I could, but everybody gets to a point where they just can’t anymore, and that was my breaking point.”
“I wish I would’ve done it sooner. I wish I would’ve done it when I was younger when I needed the help. I didn’t think it would be this rewarding. Now I’m grateful, I’ve done that. It’s not only helped me be accountable every day, but it’s allowed me to pay it forward. It’s allowed me to teach, point people in the right directions for their own recovery.”
Below is a candid conversation with Bobby Ryan from June 9, the day Ryan received his Masterton nomination to the PHWA by the Ottawa chapter.
Senators’ Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy nominee, Bobby Ryan didn’t skip a beat in his Zoom call Tuesday with members of the Ottawa chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association which included Full Press NHL.
Ryan was his refreshing, genuine and honest self during the 17-minute call, not shying away from any topic.
The 33-year old opened the call thanking the local media for his nomination.
“I wish it were in better circumstances, we’d be having a nice gala, chatting about this in another setting. Obviously getting the news yesterday from Chris (Moore, Senators’ Manager of Communications) was a great thing that came from kind of all the tough things for the year. And I’m extremely pleased to be the Ottawa Senators’ representative. I got a chance to look at the list (of Masterton nominees) today. There are so many deserving guys. To be mentioned among them and to represent the Sens in a positive light after such a tough year was an incredible honour.”
The following questions and answers from the group call may be edited for clarity.
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Can you summarize your feelings on being nominated for the Masterton Trophy?
Bobby Ryan: “Obviously I’m honoured. It’s a great thing to have maybe a silver-lining out of the kind of year that I went through. Somebody mentioned it to me right away after that game (Feb. 27 when Ryan scored a hat trick in his home return). One of my teammates said “you just threw my hat in the ring for the Masterton.” I guess that would be cool, but obviously the furthest thing from my mind, and the reason that I had to go get right. To be recognized for what I did for a month, leading up to my comeback was a very small, but it was a fulfilling thing for me.”
Would you call this the most difficult year of your career in a lot of ways?
Bobby Ryan : “Yes, absolutely, obviously the big thing being stepping away from the game, going to start the process of healing, learning about myself. On the ice was one thing, things weren’t going well when I left. That had a lot to do with where I was at in life. It was just a very trying year because I thought I was stepping away for 30 days, coming back, practicing, getting back to things – learning that wasn’t going to be the case. It just felt like even though I had the biggest obstacle to clear in the first 30 days of learning about my issues with alcohol. Coming back, I felt like I was just having another obstacle to clear every day, another obstacle every week, and another until I was cleared to be part of the team again. It was generally a trying year. I’ve got to thank (Senators’ head coach) D.J. (Smith) for really kind of keeping me on track with that. I’ve already thanked my wife (Danielle) publicly so many times that I’ll never forget to do that. D.J. was great for me, talking to me, pulling me aside, talking about things to keep my head on straight.”
What was Danielle’s reaction to this news? Do you share this nomination with her?
Bobby Ryan: “This is certainly not just a team award, it’s a very big family award. We didn’t celebrate it in any way. I think a small part of us knew that this was coming. People had mentioned it so many times. I guess for it to be official, I think my wife and I talked about how far we’ve come in the last six months – how far I’ve come with things that have led to some of the day-in, day-out rewards that I’ve been getting now. Yes, it will be a big a family award for us.”
Was there ever a time this year when you doubted your ability to make a comeback?
Bobby Ryan: “Yeah, probably right when I left was the hardest time because I knew leaving – obviously with the contract, there’s that – I left knowing that I might have played my last game in the NHL. That was the hardest thing to swallow and to get over. Then as I’m sitting there in December in California and watching games, bothering everybody else around me with the scores, checking on the Sens, I was watching some of the guys, thinking I can’t play at that pace, taking 30 days off in November-December. I doubted it then that I would’ve been able to get my body back where I needed to be playing. I have to thank the staff because not only did I do that, I was in the best shape of my life the past month before I got into game. I felt great about that. I did worry about it, but I had a good support group around me.”
When you came back in March, you said how great you had been feeling the month prior, how have things evolved since then?
Bobby Ryan: “I had to take the two weeks that we were quarantined obviously. I got back here (Idaho) and got right back to work. We had to. We didn’t know what was happening, if we’re going to come back and play our last 11 games. I stayed in really good shape through that, and decided I was going to continue that. I didn’t want to lose anything what I built from January on. I didn’t take any more time off. I just got right back to work on my summer workout that I try to do before I have a couple of down weeks that I’ll have here and there. I felt great. I feel that my energy level, every part of my life is just better – physically, I’m at the best I’ve ever felt. Unfortunately, it’s going to be a trial and error all summer because I don’t know how to plan for seven-eight months between games. We’re going to learn through it.”
What do you want to accomplish from now until the end of your career?
Ryan: “We haven’t had any exit meetings. I don’t know what the plans are for me, going forward with the Sens. You know I’m going to honour the contract by coming back in shape, being ready to play. I’d like to be a consistent player for the rest of my career. I’d like to never have a drink again during the hockey season. I’d love to just continue to be a top-six player. I still think I have that in me. I think I showed that a little bit in the four games we played. If it’s with the Sens, I really just want to continue to watch the young kids get better and help them along the path to be a consistent playoff team. All the pieces are there with the all the drafting they have coming forward – play a little mentor for those guys – continue to find a way to be productive on the ice. Those are some of my goals I kind of set forward going back into March. And they haven’t changed much, everything is on hold right now.”
Your openness has been so refreshing. Do you think that’s why fans have been so fond of you? They know your story in good times and bad?
Ryan: “I think that when you look at players and athletes, people have a perception that they’re making a million bucks and they’re living the good life, and they’re getting to play hockey, but I don’t think people ever really get a chance to relate to some of the things that go on underneath. I’ve been really candid about that, through my familiar stuff, through my alcohol issues, things like that. I’ve never hid from it. I’ve always kind of said, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it in the public eye. I’m going to be candid with them. Some of the most rewarding things are that people have reached out to me through social media, Instagram, whatever that might be – sending private messages. I try to pay it forward by helping them. Some I’ve helped by treatment, some I’ve helped by just having the right conversation. There are people I didn’t know that I indirectly affected in some sense, and it’s incredible people feel they can do that with me. I love that I’ve been able to help some people. I think people cheer for me, or relate to me because I’ve been open. I’ll never stop being open as it does help people in some way.”
Are you planning to stay in your area the entire summer? What are your days like?
Ryan: “That is the plan right now because of the quarantine issue going back into Canada (mandatory 14-day quarantine upon entry). I do know they talked about some kind of mini-camp at some point. I think it’s going to be a little far-fetched due to the restriction on travel with the amount of Americans and Europeans going back into Canada. So for now, I’m just going to stay put, continue to train. My gear will be here this week. There are actually quite a few players here. I’m going to start skating with (Lightning centre) Tyler Johnson, just to be on the ice. They’re in training camp and game mode. I’m going to go out and skate with him, then put the gear away for an unknown time frame and continue to work out. Right now, home is in Idaho, and I’m up and in the gym by 6:30 a.m. which is was never a thing before. I’ve really found it cathartic for me to get up early and set up my day the right way. By 8:45-9, I’m back at home with the kids, and I’m playing dad. We’ve got into a nice rhythm right now. I don’t want to disrupt that. I want to stay put as I long as I can, doing this.”
How hard is it to train for something without a target date?
Ryan: “I put together seven or eight different plans over the past three months. The original plan was to not lose anything that I had built because we were going to play again. That seemed to be the better part of a month and a half before we decided we weren’t playing at all. I had to stay in game shape, and I did that for a bit, then I stepped back. And now, I’m looking at here’s the date we could play, here’s the date that training camp could possibly be. Those dates change every week. At least now I know, I’m not doing anything until probably November, and that gives me a chance to say, “Here’s where I can build. Here’s when I can back off.” You can’t go full throttle right up until November at this point. It’s getting easier. Like I said, I didn’t take very much time off because I wanted to stay where I was.”
Since you’ve had the opportunity to be away for several months, have you been able to re-charge mentally?
Ryan: “I hate to say it, but the quarantine was great. I felt like I was running at one hundred miles an hour for the last four months. I really hadn’t had a chance to kind of take a step back. The goal was to get through another day and stay sober. But at the same time, make it one step closer to returning. And then it returns, and you get thrown back into day-to-day life in the NHL. Sobriety doesn’t get put on the back-burner, but you forget, right, you forget to do all the daily affirmations, the things that check in with your mind – get yourself feeling right. I took those 14 days to almost re-educate myself on learning how to be sober. And it helped immensely. It really got me a chance to just slow down. We got down to Idaho, and we’ve been here for three months now. Life is slower. The pace of life here is much slower. It’s helped me immensely in that direction.”
Bobby Ryan, candid is always, a worthy nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.