EDMONTON – It’s typical to see Ryan O'Reilly come off the ice 15 or so minutes after the Buffalo Sabres have wrapped up a practice. He uses that time to run additional drills with other players, whether it’s lofting passes over a stick laid flat on the ice or simply trying to shoot a puck through a hole in the boards to work on accuracy.
On Saturday in Edmonton, O’Reilly had some extra company. His older brother Cal was recalled from Rochester for the first time this season before the Sabres left for a three-game swing in Western Canada.
For the two brothers, conducting those post-practice drills was just like old times.
“Oh, gosh. You think about every summer, it’s what we would do all the time together,” Ryan said. “That’s how we’ve always trained and a lot of the drills I do, I’ve been doing with him since I was a kid. It’s great because we’ve been pushing each other and finding new ways to challenge ourselves since I can remember.
“To have him up here, we can do that stuff together.”
As captain of the Amerks this season, Cal has tallied a team-high 14 points (3+11) in 21 games played. He got the call to Buffalo following a loss to Toronto on Friday night.
“It’s been a few years since I’ve had a game up here,” he said. “I’m excited for the opportunity and hopefully I’ll get in one of these games on this road trip.”
Cal last played an NHL game as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 12, 2012 under now-Sabres coach Dan Bylsma. He’s had a long journey back, spending two seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League and two more with the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League. Cal captained Utica to a Calder Cup championship season last year.
Coming off of a 61-point season with the Comets, he signed a two-year contract with Buffalo on July 3, one week after the team acquired Ryan in a trade with Colorado.
Instantly, it created the possibility of the two brothers playing together in the NHL. With a four-and-a-half year age difference separating them (Cal turned 29 on Sept. 30 while Ryan turns 25 in February), the O’Reillys had never played together at any level, let alone the highest in the world.
That changed on Sept. 25, when both players were included in the lineup for a preseason game against the Maple Leafs in Toronto. Bylsma placed them on a line together to start the game with dozens of family members and friends in attendance.
As special as that moment and the entire preseason was for them, having Cal with Buffalo for even one day in the regular season has been even more surreal.
“Yeah, it is,” Ryan said, smiling from ear to ear. “I feel now I’ve got a lot of good friends on the team. Preseason, it’s still great, but it’s not your true lineup and it’s not the true test at the best level. Doing it for real here, being together and just getting to see him, it’s funny. I still have to pinch myself a bit.”
Bylsma, who coached Cal for six games in Pittsburgh, said that he sees similarities in the brothers’ games.
“I know his game pretty well,” the coach said. “You see a lot of his brother in how he plays the game as well. He can play in all situations; he plays a hard game down the middle of the ice and can make plays. I saw that in the preseason from Cal, but I more saw that in the previous time coaching Cal.”
How long Cal stays and when he might play remains to be seen. If he does crack the lineup during the Sabres’ current three-game road trip – they play Sunday in Edmonton, Monday in Vancouver and Thursday in Calgary – it will mark yet another chapter in what’s been a special story for the O’Reillys this season.
“It’s very special,” Cal said. “Obviously the chance to play in the NHL with your brother is pretty amazing.”
“To be at this stage and together for real kind of,” Ryan added, “it’s a dream come true.”
LAST GAME AT REXALL PLACE
As the Oilers prepare to say goodbye to Rexall Place, their home since the 1974-75 season, one particular Sabre will relish his last visit to the arena in Edmonton.
“I was an Edmonton fan as a young kid growing up,” Bylsma said. “I was watching Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri and the whole crew growing up so I was a fan. Coming here as a player was special the first time. It’s special now because of that.”
As special as his first trip to Rexall Place may have been, his second was equally memorable. As a forward for the Los Angeles Kings on Nov. 27 1996, Bylsma scored his first NHL goal in the same building where his childhood idols had scored so many before him.
“It was a faceoff shot from the point, second-chance rebound and I dove in the net,” Bylsma recalled. “I dove kind of behind the goalie to get it so I ended up in the net and I just remember Ray Ferraro picking me up off the ice in the net out of celebration.”
9 Evander Kane – 90 Ryan O'Reilly – 23 Sam Reinhart
88 Jamie McGinn – 15 Jack Eichel – 12 Brian Gionta
22 Johan Larsson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 26 Matt Moulson
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 17 David Legwand/19 Cal O'Reilly – 82 Marcus Foligno
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
25 Carlo Colaiacovo – 47 Zach Bogosian
29 Jake McCabe – 46 Cody Franson
6 Mike Weber
31 Chad Johnson
35 Linus Ullmark