“Ironic,” a song made famous by Alanis Morisette, an artist from Ottawa, couldn’t have been more fitting on this night.
Due to a power outage in his area, Ottawa Senators’ Bobby Ryan accepted the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy at a brewpub 40 minutes away from his home with his wife, Danielle, and two young children by his side. It was the only place they could find wifi.
The Masterton Trophy is given to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. Ryan is all of that.
The now 33-year old left the Senators suddenly November 20 to take part in the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program. It was later learned Ryan had been suffering from alcohol abuse.
Ryan started the campaign on the right foot, notching a goal in the league-opener in Toronto October 2. However, throughout the next 19 games, he was inconsistent to the point, head coach D.J. Smith designated the 13-year veteran a healthy scratch in four of them.
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Something was amiss.
In a June 10 Zoom call, Ryan said, “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.”
Ryan not only returned to the ice three months after tackling his alcohol issue head-on, he posted a hat trick in his first game on home ice February 27 versus the Canucks. The sense of adulation from the Canadian Tire Centre crowd and his teammates brought many to tears, including the Ottawa Senator himself.
— NHL (@NHL) May 19, 2020
In winning the award, Ryan noted on Sportsnet’s broadcast Monday it was “the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.”
“It took a lot out of everybody around me. And thank you for recognizing that, the Ottawa Senators, the coaching staff, D.J. Smith and (GM) Pierre Dorion, (owner) Eugene Melynk for letting me go and do this – get me the help that I needed so that I could come back and be a productive player in the future. I know it was a tough year for D.J. in particular as a first-year coach and get this thrown at you. I’d really like to thank him for the patience with it.”
Bobby Ryan of the @Senators is the 2019-20 recipient of the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.” #NHLAwards pic.twitter.com/XoTc2GmdQM
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) September 7, 2020
Ryan also acknowledged, “The hockey doctors, the NHL Players Association for getting me through it, teaching me how do this, giving me all the tools I needed, and kind of releasing me back into the game, and their patience with me was incredible. I owe them everything. Last and certainly definitely not least, my wife (Danielle) and kids – I told my wife five years ago, because of her I think, seeing myself starting to become the man I wanted to be, then I took a detour. But I’m back. I’m back and try to get better every day. Every day I wake up and go through this process and therapy. So I can be better.”
Appearing refreshed Ryan recognized his fight with alcohol will always be present, but he’s in a much better place.
“You know I came out the other side ahead of the battle that’s been plaguing me for a while. Just knowing I have to continue. I have to continue to battle it every day. Continue to work on it every day and for myself. For me, it’s an opportunity. It’s more of a family award than an individual award. It means a lot to me, but I hope it means more to my wife. I’m looking forward to celebrating it with her.”
The Idaho resident told Full Press NHL. “I don’t think (winning the award) validates it by any means. It’s a cherry on top, so to say. What validates it for me is the way my relationships have changed. Validation seems to come to me differently every day, things that I’ve missed. I don’t have to wake up and remember what I’ve talked about; missed out on; the life that I was leading. It was such a strain on everybody around me. Now that I don’t need to get validation that way. I just hope it gets better. When you put the work in, when you put the time in correctly, nothing is better. Looking at my kids in the restaurant right now, I would’ve taken it for granted, but not anymore.”
Reaching to those that may be suffering from alcohol issues, Ryan recommends “Starting that conversation” and like him, “It gets a little better every day.”