It’s safe to say that being a #2 overall draft would make a player used to playing with pressure. However, one would think that Bobby Ryan could never have been prepared for the amount of hype and expectations that were placed upon him after the Senators acquired him in the summer of 2013. Bobby Ryan had superstar-like numbers during his seasons with the Anaheim Ducks. He had the 14th most goals in the NHL between 2008-2009 and 2012-2013, including four 30-goal seasons in a row.
While these numbers alone would have had Senators fans giddy, the fact that he was acquired the day that Daniel Alfredsson left for Detroit as a free agent, made the expectations unlike anything we’ve seen in team history. Ryan didn’t do himself any favours by scoring 6 goals and 9 points in his first 9 games as an Ottawa Senator. His scorching hot start—coupled with his good looks and charisma—quickly made him the face of the franchise to many. To them, Bobby Ryan would replace Daniel Alfredsson and lead this team to a championship.
Fast forward to 2018 and no, Bobby Ryan has not yet led the Senators to the Stanley Cup. But, he has come awfully close as he arguably was the team’s best player during their phenomenal run just 9 months ago to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. His production has dropped off at times due to multiple injuries, but when healthy – as he was in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year—he reminds everyone just what kind of player he is. He reminds everyone why we were so excited to acquire him in 2013 and why, to this day, he is one of the most popular players in franchise history. To us, Bobby Ryan is a lot more than who he is on the ice. We didn’t ask him about his childhood, but if you do any research on him, you can learn just how difficult a childhood he had and how much he has had to overcome in his life. You can also see what kind of person he is by what he does off the ice. His suite at the Canadian Tire Centre for underprivileged kids to attend games is not something I would ever have known about had I not walked into it by accident one night. He doesn’t brag about his good deeds off the ice, he just does them. We sat down with Bobby to talk about the season, being a dad, and to take a look back on the past four and a half years on the team.
Photography by Marc Brigden
Just weeks before you were acquired by the Senators there was the much-publicized departure of Daniel Alfredsson via free agency. With your hot start out of the gate (6 goals and 9 points in 9 games) fans and media looked to you as a new face of the franchise, perhaps putting too much pressure on you. Did you feel any added pressure at the start of the season? What was it like for you to be brought in as a top line winger, to essentially replace the most iconic player in team history?
I tried to just not focus on that narrative. Whenever people asked me that I would just deflect it, there’s no replacing a guy like that, we’re not even the same type of player. I took all of those things and tried to put them aside and let that work itself out. I just wanted to come in and have a good start, but I felt the added pressure just being in Ottawa. Coming from a market in California where no one was building their weekend around games into a city where I was the main focal point was stressful. I tried to embrace it as much as I could and from there it’s become home.
How has being a father changed you? What would you say is the best thing about being a dad?
I think it changes on every given day. Right now, watching her learn something new is huge. She’s just in that stage where her patterns and what she likes to do are always changing. Watching her grow and learn is probably the best part. I think it’s insane how you learn to stop thinking for yourself and think of somebody else at all times. When I’m out to dinner with friends, she doesn’t care if your having a good time or what not she’s always ready to go at 7:00pm. You learn about responsibility and it’s the most humbling experience you’re ever going to have, she’s gonna bring you to your knees at least once a week and test every part of your patience.
During your time in Ottawa, you’ve been part of two of the most memorable runs in franchise history. The incredible 23-4-4 run to the playoffs at the end of the 2014-2015 season and last season’s playoff run, led by your 15 points in 19 games, to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. Looking back, what would you say has been your best memory with the team so far?
My best memory is definitely the playoff run last year. I think when people think about the two runs they either identify with one or the other. We came within a goal to the Stanley cup finals. I think that’s pretty impressive for a team that was set to lose every round, who wasn’t really supposed to be there in the first place. We were the underdogs and took it as far as we could.
You’ve been more than a little snakebitten with injuries since you arrived here in Ottawa. How frustrating has it beenfor you to deal with these injuries?
You do your best. Some of them I was able to play with right away and then you have to live with not being able to play at 100%. I think the frustration level and how lonely you get doesn’t really get recognized by the people around you. It’s hard when the guys are gone for 12 days and you’re just left doing treatment. It’s been hard for me having it been the same body part now 7 times in a row. You sometimes feel useless knowing you’re never going to get ahead of the injury for the entire year. You have to accept you’re only going to make small plays, and you won’t shoot or dig for pucks in the same way. People always say ‘oh, he’s hurt’ but don’t realize your playing through it and trying to bring something positive. That’s where you rely on your teammates and coaches because they’re the only ones that understand what’s going on.
Let’s look at this year for a minute. Obviously, you guys are not where you want to be but you really are a lot closer to the playoffs than it looks on paper. What do you think the keys are for the team to get back in the playoff race?
First of all, we have to take care of home ice. We must be more consistent to the system, especially since we’re a fragile team (as we’ve been called). We have to find a way to chase the game and just know we’re gonna get one in the third period because we almost always do. The problem is we compound a 1 or 2 nothing lead by making a mistake on a dumb penalty. They’re not systematic or work ethic related, they’re just mistakes that are mental. If we clean those things up and know we can score every night we can do great things. We have strong lines offensively and we know Andy is going to give us a chance.
When things aren’t going well, is there something that you like to do away from the rink to get you back in a good state of mind?
You know if you asked me years ago I would say playing guitar or golf. Golf is a big thing but now it’s just being a Dad. My wife made it a rule that when I leave hockey I’m just a Dad at home. At the rink I’m hockey player Bobby Ryan but when I go home I’m Dad, so I separate those two lives. I think for a guy that’s gone through the ups and downs of the season and injuries it’s nice to have my daughter. She doesn’t care about those results, they don’t make any difference to her. It’s whoever has the remote to turn on Elena of Avalor right now or a new show. That’s who’s most important to her. It’s been a blessing, having a daughter has been a way to take my mind away from the negative.
Tell us a little about Bobby Ryan away from the ice. We’ve found out that Zack Smith is quite a wood worker for example. What are some of your hobbies that you enjoy?
I’m always pretty candid with the media and give a little more, a little less cliché, but I think people wouldn’t believe I’m very much an introvert. We just moved and I bought a new boat, so I’ll be spending a lot of time lake fishing, living the cottage life. And I want to introduce my daughter to all those things.
What was your reason for starting up Bobby Ryan’s All-Star Kids? How important is it for you to be able to give back to kids and families going through difficult times in the Ottawa area?
It’s extremely important. Somebody mentioned it as something I could do and it took about 30 seconds for me to say yes. There is nothing more important than having kids there to watch you play and getting to bring a smile to their faces. It’s very rewarding, I don’t ever get to meet the kids and that’s the downside but I look up to them on the big screen.
What are some of your favourite spots to visit in the Ottawa area? What are some of your favourite restaurants?
I love Rivera, I don’t get as many date nights though being a dad (laughs). Aperitivo in Kanata is great and Pocopazzo on March road, I eat every pre-game meal there. Those are my top three and of course La Roma.
What is it like to see a teammate get traded? Is it hard to focus on hockey because you see a friend leaving?
Maybe for young guys that haven’t been around or seen it happen. As you get older you understand the business side a lot more. Change is inevitable, I remember one year I was in the league I think we went through over 40 players wearing our jersey. You get used to it. It does suck when you get to know a guy and his family, and it sucks to see him move on but at the same time you respect the decision he made and know it’s for the best.
Tell us a little about how great it was for everyone to see Clarke MacArthur come back last year and play the way he did in the playoffs? For people that don’t know him personally, what kind of person is he?
Well for one, Clark and I came here the same year, and signed on here to stay. He was a big part of why I stayed, I felt when I was playing with him I was playing my best hockey. To watch him go through that 2 year process, I felt for him everyday and I just wanted him to make the right decision. Then for him to come back and contribute, he ended the series against Boston with the overtime winner and then to walk away on his own terms after that was great. I was thrilled he was at peace with his decision, he’s one of the most sarcastic dry and quick-witted guys I have ever met. His presence is missed.
What is your opinion on athletes and social media? Do you have any advice for athletes that are about to sign up for a twitter account?
I always say remember that what you post is open to scrutiny to everybody. I remember taking some heat for liking something once and you can’t really defend yourself in 140 characters.
Do you do any travelling during the off-seasons?
Yeah, I mean I try to get back to Arizona at least once a year for the golf but Jackson Hole is home for me, it’s just a small ski town.
If you had to survive 2 weeks in a jungle with 3 guys on the team, who would you want there and why?
I would say Smitty (Zack Smith)—he’s scrappy. With a glue stick and cotton swab he would build me a shopping mall. And I’m gonna say Burrows, just in case there is something else on the island we need to fight off. I would also bring Chris Wideman if I had to survive 2 weeks in the jungle for his satire to lighten the mood and he’s small so you could send him out first (laughs).
A lot of kids say you are their favourite player. What does that mean to you to hear that from kids around the city? What advice would you give kids reading this who look up to you and one day want to follow in your shoes and play for the Ottawa Senators?
I think having kids shows how full circle it comes. I grew up idolizing Brett Hull, Mike Modano, the American guys. Then I got a chance to not only play with Modano but compete against him. I was wearing #9 because I grew up idolizing him. It all comes back full circle and it’s rewarding. It makes you realize why you do what you do. My best advice for kids is to be consistent. Find a way—even if your just shooting pucks in the basement—to be consistent in your work ethic. Then the opportunities will come because people will start to notice the effort you’ve put in.