SAN JOSE — Bobby Ryan won’t set foot back in Anaheim until the wee hours Sunday morning, but don’t be fooled. His comeback tour to California has been going on strong ever since the Ottawa Senators arrived on the West Coast on Monday.
It has been a case of Bobby Ryan this, Bobby Ryan that — from both fans and media — complete with both well-wishers and a fair share of boo-birds, as well.
When the Senators practised Tuesday afternoon at a suburban arena in Segundo — a suburb of Los Angeles where Ryan spent his youth — a dozen longtime Ryan fans showed up. Some were wearing Senators colours. Others donned the gear of the Anaheim Ducks, Ryan’s home team for six years until last summer’s blockbuster trade that brought him to Ottawa in exchange for Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen and a first-round draft pick.
The group spent the workout racing around the rink, snapping picture after picture. When the practice was over, Ryan signed autographs for another 20 minutes, politely asking about their lives.
“They call themselves the Bobby Ryan Twitter Parade,” Ryan says, smiling widely. “They’ve been really good to me over the years. If anybody ever says anything negative about me (on Twitter), they’re right there, helping me out.”
During Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings, Ryan heard a few boos from the crowd — hardly shocking considering that, over the years, the Ducks and Kings have engaged in a fierce rivalry akin to The Battle of Ontario. After Ryan scored a couple of points, including his first goal with the Senators, and was named the game’s second star, the boos rained down yet again.
“Yeah, yeah, that was pretty cool,” said Ryan, who coincidentally enough also scored his first NHL goal in the Staples Center. “I figured that might happen in Anaheim, but not (in Los Angeles), so hopefully I can do it one more time on Saturday (in San Jose) and one more time on Sunday (in Anaheim).”
In so many ways, Ryan is a genuine California kid. He’s a free spirit, an open book on just about anything, and he acknowledges there’s a comfort in being out here to kick-start his career with the Senators. His girlfriend, Danielle Rhodes, came out here on her own to visit with her family and the two are doing what they can to catch up with old friends.
“It’s nice, I guess, to play four of the first six games in an area you know,” he says. “These are all buildings and settings I know and that really does make you feel more at ease. Going into Buffalo and Toronto, I think I had played maybe one game in both of those buildings before, but I feel much more comfortable here, at ease, hopefully that’s why it led to an okay night in L.A. and hopefully better in San Jose and Anaheim.”
Of course, the game in Los Angeles and Saturday’s contest in San Jose are simply appetizers leading up to Ryan’s return against the Ducks. The fact the Senators will spend less than 24 hours in the area — they will fly into Anaheim immediately after Saturday’s game against San Jose and fly out to Phoenix immediately after Sunday’s game — is a good thing, Ryan says.
“It’s going to be in and out. Truthfully, I do think it’s a good thing. I really am more excited to get it over with. It will be a special night for me with a lot of friends I’ve met there and I’ll be able to say hi to them afterwards, but the main focus is going to be getting two points and getting out of Dodge as quickly as possible.
“It just feels like there has been this big build up for it. Like ‘oh, he’s coming back, it’s going to be a big night with him coming home.’ I just want to play the game and move on. After we play (the Ducks) for the first time, it will really dissipate.”
There will be a touch of irony when the Ducks take the ice wearing their retro, throwback sweaters. Ryan wore the old sweater only once, when the Ducks drafted him second overall behind Sidney Crosby at the 2005 entry draft in Ottawa. Ryan acknowledges playing as the visitor is going to feel a bit odd. When Edmonton Oilers winger David Perron tweeted about how strange it was to watch his former team, the St. Louis Blues, Ryan had exactly the same feeling.
“It’s still weird to watch them play,” he says. “You’ve been there for six years and (Ryan) Getzlaf and (Corey) Perry and all those guys. It’s not like I need closure on it, but it will be a good way to, I guess, move on, or close the book. It feels like a breakup, but it’s not. It’s just a good way to close the chapter.”
The previous chapter involved Ryan’s frustrations playing for former Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle and at times losing top line minutes playing behind the likes of Getzlaf, Perry and Teemu Selanne. The worst came in the summer of 2012, when Ryan told a New Jersey newspaper that it was time for a change.
He spent all of last season wondering when the other skate would finally drop, recognizing that the Ducks had salary cap trouble and knowing that his salary (he’s making $5.562 million this year and next) made him a likely candidate to be traded. He knew that Ottawa was a possibility.
“Everybody just thought we were on such bad terms in Anaheim for the last year because of the way things went the summer beforehand, but we really weren’t,” he ways. “There was really no dramatic fights or anything like that, that everybody is imagining. It was just time to move on and everybody understood that.”
Just the same, he’s not exactly sure what to expect when he steps back on the ice in Anaheim.
“I can’t imagine I would be (booed) from everybody in the rink, but I won’t be surprised if I heard a few,” he says. “My comments (about wanting out of Anaheim) really turned off some people. I understand that. People read what they want to read and change their minds on a player they liked for four or five years because he finally spoke his mind once,” he says.
“Some of the fans that I’ve known for a long time, that I’ve formed relationships with, will be around in warm-ups and cheering me on and I will be looking forward to that.”