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O'Byrne Goes Up Against Old Club

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
Much of the focus following Colorado’s optional morning skate on Sunday centered on Ryan O’Byrne, the former Montreal Canadien and current Avalanche defenseman, who would be facing his former team for the first time later in the evening.

O’Byrne, acquired by Colorado in exchange for prospect Michael Bournival on Nov. 11, spoke Sunday morning about his experiences in Montreal. Fresh off a solid 2009-10 campaign during which he played in 55 regular season games and 13 playoff contests, O’Byrne skated in the Canadiens’ first three games this season and was then a healthy scratch for the next 12 before being traded.

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“It was a great experience,” O’Byrne said in reference to his time in Montreal. “It was just one of those situations where I think it was time for a fresh start.”

O’Byrne pointed out the obvious – that Montreal can be a pressure cooker of a city to play in at times, due to the intense scrutiny of both the media and the team’s knowledgeable, rabid fan base. The defenseman is the first to admit that he had some ups-and-downs during his time there, and he also had trouble cracking a lineup that featured several veteran defensemen who were playing well early this season.

Since arriving in Denver, O’Byrne has proven that all he needed was an opportunity. Normally paired with John-Michael Liles along Colorado’s blue line, the Cornell University product has gained the trust of the Avalanche’ s coaching staff and has been able to conquer one of the most important mental aspects of the game.

“Everyone always talks about confidence, and it is the truth. You need it, and if you have that swagger you’re able to make those plays,” said O’Byrne.” If you make a mistake you know you’re going to go out there the next shift and make the right play. Sometimes in Montreal that eluded me for whatever reason.”

In typical O’Byrne fashion, the defenseman played a solid, but not flashy, game against his former club. He recorded two shots on goal and registered a hit and a blocked shot in 19:34 of ice time.

Since joining the Avalanche, O’Byrne has 55 hits, 48 blocked shots, four assists and a +13 plus/minus rating in 19 games.

 “He’s been a really effective player for us. He’s played very well,” said Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco. “I think that he fits in very nicely with Johnny Liles; they seem to be a good pair that works together well. Johnny’s a guy that obviously likes to support the attack more and Ryan is your typical stay-at-home defenseman.”

You can’t exactly say that O’Byrne’s play has surprised Sacco, because the head coach possessed a level of a familiarity with the defenseman from their time in the American Hockey League. When Sacco was coaching the Avalanche’s primary affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, he occasionally had to game-plan against O’Byrne, who was skating with the Hamilton Bulldogs at the time.

So when O’Byrne jumped right in the Avalanche’s lineup after the trade and immediately became a solid contributor, it wasn’t exactly a shock.

“He’s been pretty much a plus player every game,” said Sacco. “I think he’s been a very effective player in the defensive zone. He’s got a long reach, he’s physical, he’s been finishing his checks. He’s been a really good addition to our team and the bottom line is we’re winning games with him in the lineup.”

Six in a row, to be exact.

Game Notes
Avalanche center Paul Stastny (upper back) returned to the lineup tonight after missing Friday’s game against Ottawa…Forward Daniel Winnik was scratched due to a case of the flu…Winger Cody McLeod, who left Friday’s contest with a groin injury, was also held out of the lineup tonight and is considered day-to-day…Milan Hejduk remains day-to-day with a groin injury…Because Colorado only had 11 healthy forwards available for tonight’s game, the team dressed seven defenseman, one of whom was Jonas Holos…Holos, who was recalled from Lake Erie on Dec. 14, last played an NHL game on Nov. 13 at Detroit…Former Avalanche defenseman and current assistant coach Sylvain Lefebvre was honored by the Avalanche Alumni Association prior to tonight’s game.
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