BUFFALO -- Ryan O'Reilly didn't have to look far for inspiration when it came to his role as the Buffalo Sabres team ambassadors for Hockey Is For Everyone month.
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O'Reilly's mother, Bonnie, and his father, Brian, set the example for Ryan by opening their home as foster parents. The O'Reilly's had four children of their own but also took in kids from around Huron County, Ontario.
"No one is ever left out and we learned that at a young age," said O'Reilly, who will help the Sabres celebrate Hockey Is For Everyone night on Tuesday when they play the Anaheim Ducks at KeyBank Center (7 p.m. ET; MSG-B, Prime, NHL.TV). "Growing up, our family fostered and we were always taking in kids. There was four of us and on top of that we had four or five at a time living with us as well and we would always open our home and include everyone. Everyone's together, everyone's a family. It's a special thing to have that and I never really knew how important that was until I got older."
The NHL has designated February as Hockey Is For Everyone month to reaffirm that the official policy of the sport is one of inclusion on the ice, in our locker rooms and in the stands.
All 31 NHL teams will celebrate Hockey Is For Everyone month with unique programming, partnerships, ceremonies, observances and community activations.
Growing up in such a large group that came from diverse backgrounds meant getting along wasn't always easy, but playing hockey was something everyone had in common.
"It was difficult at times because sometimes those kids were coming through, they were kicked out of their own homes or they got kicked out of schools and there was a lot of difficult kids and my parents always tried to work with them," O'Reilly said. "Hockey was one of the things that we always [did], we always played hockey together and that was one of the things that brought us closer together. It's amazing how the older I get, the more I appreciate it and I understand how important it was.
"It was something that was really special."
O'Reilly credits his mother for showing what it means to care and to open up your life to those that need it most.
"Always growing up, no matter who it was, it was always include everyone, no matter what you're doing, as many people as possible and you never say no; she's a prime example of that," O'Reilly said. "She's always going out of her way to make people's day and I think that inspires me the way she is. To be able to do that and be an ambassador of the game and to help in that way.
"A lot comes from her and she's an amazing woman and I probably could be somewhat as good as a person as she can be."