DENVER – Unwanted in Montreal, defenceman Ryan O’Byrne hasn’t taken long to find a home with the Colorado Avalanche.
On the ice, anyway.
Away from it, he’s still searching for a place of his own.
O’Byrne has been living at a hotel since he was acquired last month, too wrapped up in making a solid impression with his new team to comb the local neighbourhoods for a new abode.
After all, the last thing he wants to go through again is what transpired in Montreal.
O’Byrne played a career-high 55 games last year with the Canadiens but fell out of favour early this season and registered more idle time than ice time.
Traded to the Avalanche, he’s gone from a forgotten man to a fixture in the lineup.
“They’ve welcomed me with open arms,” said O’Byrne, who will face his former team Sunday night. “The times were tough in Montreal. But I’ve got that pleasure back in the game.”
This was exactly what the Avalanche envisioned when they made the deal: a big, bruising defenceman to pair with John-Michael Liles, freeing him up to get more involved in the offence. Liles has emerged as quite a scoring threat this season, leading the highest-scoring team in the league with 23 assists.
With O’Byrne around, Liles can roam around the ice and jump into a play whenever he sees fit, knowing his defensive partner has his back.
“He’s been like a security blanket,” Liles said. “I know where he is on the ice all of the time. He hits, he blocks shots and plays fantastic for us. He was a great pickup for us.”
O’Byrne hasn’t been the only one.
Colorado also acquired forward Tomas Fleischmann from the Washington Capitals on Nov. 30, another player who has rejuvenated his game with a change of scenery.
Fleischmann has five goals and six assists in eight games with the Avalanche. He had four goals in 23 contests with the Capitals.
“It’s a good group to be around,” Fleischmann said. “It’s great for my career.”
O’Byrne felt the same way about the trade that landed him in the Mile High City.
Anything was better than sitting in Montreal.
For nearly five weeks, O’Byrne wondered what he did to slide so deep into the doghouse. He tried skating harder at practice—no help. He attempted to keep a positive attitude—didn’t work.
So O’Byrne did the only thing left to do—inquire, repeatedly, as to what was going on.
“More or less, they had some veteran defencemen ahead of me and those guys were playing well,” O’Byrne explained with a casual shrug. “Montreal’s having a good year this year and for whatever reason, I couldn’t get myself in the lineup. … Sometimes, I felt like a spare part.”
O’Byrne would show up on game day hoping to see his name in the lineup, only to be disappointed.
That hasn’t been the case in Colorado, where the team’s uptempo system fits his game.
“They want me to be more aggressive here and there, as opposed to sitting back more in Montreal,” said O’Byrne, a third-round pick of the Canadiens in 2003. “I don’t try to change my game too much—play physical, block shots, make that first pass. If I do that, I’ll be successful.”
He’s definitely been successful so far this season, logging more than 20 minutes a game for Colorado and boasting a plus-13 rating, meaning the team is scoring more goals than its surrendering when he’s on the ice.
“Sometimes it take a player two teams before they figure it out,” coach Joe Sacco offered up as to why O’Byrne’s flourishing with the Avs. “He’s taking advantage of an opportunity.”
Although he’s quickly found a home with his new team, he’s in no rush to buy one. Hotel life suits him just fine.
“We’re hockey players, we’re used to living in hotels,” O’Byrne said, grinning. “You get accustomed to it. It’s not a big deal.
“I couldn’t get in a groove in Montreal. But for whatever reason here, I’ve been able tofind a home for myself and play some good hockey. I really feel like I’m contributing.”