February 18, 2012
O'Reilly steps up for Avs
By Derek Van Diest, QMI Agency
Ryan O’Reilly can’t believe it’s already been three seasons.
The Colorado Avalanche centre still remembers vividly his first training camp and making the jump straight out of junior hockey.
Now, he’s the Avalanche’s leading scorer and one of the team’s most dependable players at both ends of the ice.
“It’s amazing, it feels like yesterday I was at my first training camp and in the room were guys like (Darcy) Tucker and (Adam) Foote, I was afraid to even say a word.” O’Reilly said prior to Friday’s encounter against the Edmonton Oilers. “Now I’m in my third year and I’ve made some good friends on the team. It’s amazing how quick it goes, but it’s been so much fun playing the games and being part of the team.”
O’Reilly, 21, was the Avalanche’s second pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, selected 33rd overall.
He formed a dynamic duo with Matt Duchene, who was taken third overall that year by the Avalanche.
With Duchene out with a knee injury, O’Reilly has helped pick up the slack offensively, heading into Friday’s contest with 15 goals and 26 assists for 41 points in 57 games.
O’Reilly finished with 26 points in each of the previous two seasons.
“I never would have thought, especially this far into the season, that I would be leading the team in points,” O’Reilly said. “But each game I’m looking at trying to do whatever I can to help the team win the game. That’s all I can do.”
A native of Clinton, Ont., O’Reilly has shown scoring prowess in the past.
He finished with 66 points as a 17-year-old with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League, in what proved to be his final year of junior.
Surprisingly the fall, the six-foot, 200-pound centre cracked the Avalanche roster, becoming a key component in the team’s rebuilding plan.
“He’s just a very consistent player,” said Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco. “He’s starting to mature, he’s a very good two-way hockey player. The last couple of seasons, he was more focused on the defensive side of the game and I think this season he’s brought the element of offence into the game. He’s one of those players that, as a coach, you can put in any situation.”
Knowing the way around his own zone has always been an important part of O’Reilly’s game. He’s also mature beyond his years emotionally, due in large part to his father, Brian, being a high-performance ‘life coach.’
“My whole life he’s been there for me and helped me out,” O’Reilly said. “In the summer he’s helping out with different areas of the game and I feel so lucky to have that and I’m able to talk to him on a daily basis on what I can do to be successful.
“He goes all over the country and works with internal psychology and how companies work together. He works with my old junior team with the Otters as a strength coach and he does the relationships stuff with the team as well.”
With his father having worked with Olympic athletes in the past, O’Reilly got an early lesson on what it took to become a professional athlete.
They were lessons he and his brother, Cal, a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, took to heart.
“That was a real treat for me growing up, me and my brother were able to see these professional athletes train,” O’Reilly said. “We saw that in order to become a professional athlete we had to do what these guys were doing. It was so lucky to see as a kid what they were doing in order to be successful.”
It’s been O’Reilly’s success this season that has helped the Avalanche stay within striking distance of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. He’s a player that Sacco is comfortable using in every situation.
“When you get to this time of year, the players that can play 200-feet, the ones that you can trust as a coach are the ones that are going to get the ice time,” Sacco said. “He’s certainly one of those players. His progress has been real good this year, he takes a lot of pride in how he prepares himself as a young player. There are a lot of things going in Ryan’s favour. He’s a good kid, he works extremely hard, he’s got good character, so the overall package has been good for him this year.”