MONTREAL – The 2009-10 season was big one for 6-foot-5 defenseman Ryan O’Byrne.
Like all Canadiens’ blue-liners this year, thanks to an early injury to Andrei Markov
, O’Byrne saw both his ice time and responsibility shoot through the Bell Centre roof. With a helping hand from the veteran defensive corps, the budding rearguard matured, developed and thrived in his new role, eventually capping his season alongside the Russian All-Star himself.
“[Playing with Markov] allowed me to concentrate on my game: making simple plays, getting involved physically and playing with intensity,” described O’Byrne.
Coming off the strongest training camp of his young career, O’Byrne suffered a set-back, missing six weeks with an ankle injury. Watching those 19 games from the press box gave him plenty of time to learn what he needed to do to be successful when he finally did return to action.
On December 4, 2009, the Victoria native helped write history for hockey’s most storied franchise, giving up his No. 3 so it could be retired for Emile “Butch” Bouchard and becoming the last Canadiens player to ever wear the number.
Despite playing just 55 games this season due to injuries or family commitments, O’Byrne still managed to finish the campaign first among all Habs d-men with 119 hits. Throwing 2.16 hits on average per game, the bruising blue-liner also edged out Maxim Lapierre for the team lead in that category.
“I feel like I’ve established myself this season and I feel a lot more like I’m a part of this team now,” explained the 25-year-old defenseman who finished a plus-1 in 13 playoff games this spring. “Before, there were times when I’d get on the ice and I wouldn’t know if I was going to have my legs under me or not. Now, when I make a mistake, I’m able to just put it behind me and move on.
“I feel more comfortable, where I can slow down the game a little and lay some big hits on guys without taking myself out of position.”
After enjoying his year of growth, the hulking defenseman will be looking to come back with a bang in his fourth NHL season. Vincent Cauchy is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Shauna Denis.See alsoSeason review – Travis Moen 22 prospects will participate in a development camp Is Alex the answer? PGA salutes the Habs Curtis Sanford back in 2010-11