|After beginning the season with Anaheim, forward Bobby Ryan returned to AHL Portland to play more regularly.|
Portland Pirates rookie right wing Bobby Ryan went a long way at the start of the season just to eventually take a few strides in reverse.
Ryan started with Anaheim, joining the Ducks for their pair of games in London to start the NHL season. He then returned to North America for contests in Detroit and Columbus. He stuck around for a trip to Pittsburgh, but once there was informed he was moving to the Pirates.
Ryan arrived in Portland on Oct. 6 and played that night, contributing an assist. Last week was his first AHL three-in-three stretch, with contests at Springfield, Worcester and Lowell.
Good thing he spent much of his summer working on leg strength.
“Your first (career) NHL game, you’ll go just about anywhere,’’ he said of the London trip. “It’s tough. You want to play at home, you want to get in a comfort level. I’ll get the chance to do it here.’’
Perhaps the wonder of Ryan’s start -- one goal, five assists in seven games -- is that he’s getting all his rest on an air mattress. That’s about the extent of his furnishings in the two-bedroom apartment he calls home in Portland.
That, and a 62-inch flat screen TV. Priorities, you know.
“I have an air mattress for now, but I have a bed coming next week,’’ he said. “It’s not that bad, but I have to make do. It doesn’t bother me. It’s better than living out of a hotel room and a suitcase.’’
Perhaps Ryan, 20, should hold off on any major purchases for his residence. It looks like it could be temporary.
Ryan was the No. 2 pick in the 2005 draft -- behind only Sid the Kid -- and almost every shift of his pro career has dripped with as much potential as sweat. Last season, he posted three goals and six assists in eight games with the Pirates and his stay with the Ducks this season lasted long enough for him to unwrap his first NHL goal.
His reputation demands that he put up the big-top circus tent no matter where he is, and so far Ryan hasn’t disappointed.
“I think there’s always expectations. It’s not exactly fair, the bar has been set high,’’ he said. “You know people expect something special every night. When that doesn’t happen, it’s tough on you. You learn to harness that. You come out the next night and hope the bounces go the right way.’’
Behind every flashy show, though, the realities are usually a little less glamorous. In Ryan’s case, it came down to a long, hot summer spent living inside workout rooms.
Although a textbook physical specimen from the outside looking in (6-2, 214) Ryan was admittedly a little too soft and needed some extra burst in his skating. So he lifted weights four days a week and did cardio work five days, totaling more than three hours per session. His motivation grew out of the sense of awe that swept over him while watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, noting the speed and fitness of pretty much everyone at that level.
“This is the first summer that I really got on track with what Anaheim wanted me to do,’’ Ryan said. “The style of game they play, you have to be leaner and much quicker.’’
Ryan passed part of the time in Anaheim working with the team’s strength and conditioning coach. He spent the rest at his home in New Jersey, working out with his father, Shane, a personal trainer.
That’s the same man who was the source of some of Ryan’s unwanted early spotlight. Shane and Bobby were at one time estranged over a string of family issues, a major divide that was highlighted in some national profiles. Bobby said the rift was bridged almost as soon as it was revealed to the public, as evidenced by his confidence in training with his father.
“We’re great,’’ Bobby said. “We talk every day. The issues between my dad and I were laid to rest with one conversation. We both said our piece, and that was that.’’
On the ice, Ryan’s focus has approached tunnel vision status. Pirates coach Kevin Dineen said Ryan has made the leap from a player who got by on his ethereal talent and smarts to one with the commitment of an eager student.
“He’s a guy who’s done a remarkable job the last five or six months,’’ Dineen said. “He needed to make the commitment to play at the highest level, he needed to work on his conditioning. He has the ability when the puck is on his stick to do remarkable things. He can control the puck with the best of them.’’
The Ducks noticed that, too. They patted Ryan on the back, then told him to get down to Portland and prove he knows what to do when the biscuit isn’t on his blade.
“I think Anaheim wants each player to take the jump (from juniors to the AHL). I think this is the right step for me to take,’’ Ryan said. “It’s important to listen to the people you have around you. While it’s easy to say; ‘I’m a guy who puts points up,’ it’s also important to say; ‘Yeah, you’re right, I can be a better player.’ It doesn’t get you anywhere to be stubborn.’’
With an attitude like that, Ryan could be in for another long trip -- one that takes him back to Anaheim.
“They put the ball in my court and said; ‘Make us call you back up.’ That’s what I intend to do,’’ Ryan said. “It (settling in Portland) is going to give me a good shot to make a home. But I’m always waiting on that call.’’