Senators’ Ryan driven by memories of Philly hockey

Before Tuesday’s game at the Wells Fargo Arena, Ottawa Senators winger Bobby Ryan had only played here only once. His memories of the building, however, ran deep.

Bobby Ryan adjusts his helmet as the Ottawa Senators practice at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, ON, on November 14, 2013. (Wayne Cuddington / Ottawa Citizen)

Ottawa forward inspired by Flyers, 1996 U.S. victory against Canada

PHILADELPHIA — Before Tuesday’s game at the Wells Fargo Arena, Ottawa Senators winger Bobby Ryan had only played here only once.

His memories of the building, however, ran deep.

It’s not a stretch to suggest that Ryan’s passion for hockey was formulated here in 1996, when he watched a pair of intense World Cup of Hockey contests between the United States and Canada.

During the round robin, the U.S. defeated Canada 5-3. In the best-of-three final, Canada won the first game 4-3, in overtime, in Philadelphia before the United States rallied to win the final two games in Montreal and the World Cup.

Ryan was nine at that time. He grew up in Cherry Hill, N.J., 20 minutes from the arena, and was a Philadelphia Flyers fan in the Legion of Doom days, but he says the spirit involved in those clashes between North American hockey rivals took everything to another level.

“Truthfully, the World Cup game when they beat Canada, that was the biggest game,” Ryan said Tuesday morning when asked about his fondest memories of the facility, which has gone through several name changes over the years. “We had season tickets (to the Flyers). I was at every game. And I remember when they were in the finals and lost (the first game).”

Ryan remembers being on his way out of the building when a late goal in regulation sent the first game of the final into extra time.

“We were leaving and I was with my dad and my roller hockey coach,” he said. “I was halfway up the stairs when they scored. It was incredible. It was, well, it was Philly fans. It was emotional. It was Canada and the U.S., instead of the Flyers against somebody else.”

For a young U.S. hockey player, the triumph of its underdog team in the best-of-three final was a signature moment.

“Ask any player in my age range,” he said. “Those guys, we grew up on it. It meant everything, especially for me to see it live. Those were the guys we idolized, and they went out and did it. It was something I looked at for a long period of time, one of those things that meant so much.”

Ryan says his biggest idols were Mike Modano and Brett Hull, who coincidentally, had dual Canadian-American citizenship and chose the U.S. side in the border hockey battle. Ryan, who will again represent the U.S. in the Olympics at Sochi, says it’s important to have role models.

“I hope we can affect young kids who are playing,” he said. “Looking back, it’s pivotal for young players to have that interaction, to be able to watch players. So, for me to come full circle and be on the other side of it, I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Considering the complexities of Ryan’s upbringing — the family moved to California after a well-documented dispute that eventually landed his father in prison — he has limited experience playing in the building.

Three years ago, he was with the Anaheim Ducks, who won a game that Ryan remembered well because of the expense of buying tickets for old friends and because he had some teeth knocked out by former Flyers defenceman Chris Pronger.

This time he spent Monday night having dinner with his parents before forking out a few more dollars for family and friends to watch Tuesday’s game. He estimated the Ryan contingent would number between 40 and 50.

“When you can have family, friends, people you grew up with in the stands and all that kind of stuff for games, it means a little more to you,” he said. “I don’t spend much time here anymore — a couple of weeks in the summer is about it — but it’s still home, it’s where I grew up, so it’s still nice.”

ONE GAME AT A TIME

Flyers captain Claude Giroux knows that the team’s climb back up the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference standings looks daunting. Even after a 3-0-1 stretch, they went into Tuesday’s game against the Senators last in their division and 15th in the East, ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres.

That was why the Flyers captain said the mindset had to be on nothing but the next game.

“It’s tough not to think about (the standings), but, at the end of the day, if you do the right things on the ice, that’s when you’re going to get your points,” the former Gatineau Olympiques star said. “We just have to stay with what we have to do, focus on that, and, if we do that, we’re going to win games.”

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