ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Not once this season has Colorado Avalanche forward Ryan O’Reilly cross-checked an opponent.
He hasn’t interfered, high-sticked, hooked, tripped, elbowed, boarded, roughed, charged, speared or slashed anyone, either.
Well, at least not while the officials were watching anyway.
The Avalanche are 73 games into the season and O’Reilly, the team’s leading goal scorer, has yet to be sent to the penalty box.
Making it through an entire season without so much as even an unintentional hold would be quite an achievement. According to the Avalanche, the last NHL player with a minimum of 70 games to go an entire season without a penalty was Butch Goring of the New York Islanders in 1980-81.
“Just a lot of good luck,” O’Reilly said of his penalty-free ways.
The player nicknamed “Factor” figures to be just that in the Lady Byng race, an award given to the player who best exhibits gentlemanly conduct.
And what better way to display that than by staying out of the box. Consider this: When Hall of Famer and current Avalanche executive Joe Sakic won the Lady Byng in 2000-01, he had 30 minutes in penalties. Last year’s recipient, Martin St. Louis, had 14 minutes.
“I couldn’t care less (about zero penalty minutes) as long as we win,” said O’Reilly, whose team is on the verge of clinching its first playoff spot since 2010. “If I get a bad bounce, I get a bad bounce and I’ll deal with it.”
He chuckled at the thought of going to the box in one of the remaining nine games.
“The boys would just kill it off,” he said.
The 23-year-old O’Reilly has had some close calls this season, where he thought for sure a penalty might be whistled on him. Like when he interfered with a Detroit player earlier in the season.
“I stepped into him. Probably should’ve been called,” said O’Reilly, who was Colorado’s second-round selection in 2009. “It depends on the game—some games they call everything, and some games they let a lot go. Just depends on the night.”
Honestly, has he high-sticked anyone, even accidentally, this season and gotten away with it?
“No high stick,” he said.
How about a cross-check the refs didn’t call?
“I don’t think I ever cross-checked,” he said.
Stick butted someone?
“Nothing like that,” O’Reilly said. “I can’t remember anything.”
His last penalty actually was April 21, 2013, when he tripped a St. Louis player.
And it’s not like O’Reilly plays conservative, either. He’s among the league leaders in takeaways this season.
“Ryan plays a very honest game,” teammate John Mitchell said. “Just because you’re working hard, doesn’t mean, ‘Oh, you’re going to take a penalty.’ He’s always looking for the puck first.”
O’Reilly is known for his devoted practice habits. Long after everyone leaves the rink, he’s still out there, picking up all the loose pucks on the ice.
Not by hand, of course, but by flipping them with his stick into a bucket. That little exercise comes in handy when he’s in the corners, prying the puck away from opponents.
“Young kids need to learn to play like him when they’re growing up,” said Mitchell, who will be back on the ice Saturday against San Jose after missing four games with a back ailment. “It’s not about going in there and getting that big smash, that big hit. I mean, it’s nice to get that bump. At the same time, you go in there and get a quick stick-lift and steal the puck.
“Those D-men, they’re going to protect the puck and take the hit. If you go in there thinking puck first, you’re going to catch some guys by surprise.”
O’Reilly’s season has certainly caught some by surprise. He’s always been viewed as more of a defensive forward, but has a career-high 26 goals.
“He’s playing a strong game,” Avs coach Patrick Roy said.
O’Reilly feels mentally strong, too, thanks to yoga. Before practices, games, even before bed, he’s doing some sort of meditation.
“A great way to practice focus,” O’Reilly said. “You’re always looking inside yourself to see the areas you need to spend a little more attention, or pay more attention to. I think it’s definitely helped with me, playing-wise and staying healthy.
“But I don’t think (yoga) has anything to do with no penalty minutes. I think that’s been lucky.”