O’Reilly eyes big things for Maple Leafs following trade from Blues
“What if I help bring a Stanley Cup to Toronto?” the text from the 32-year-old forward said. “Can you imagine?”
“I texted back and said, ‘That’s the right attitude to have,'” Brian said. “I mean, like Ryan said, can you imagine?”
For Brian and his wife, Bonnie, Ryan’s mom, the concept is almost surreal, much like it is for their son.
Both of O’Reilly’s parents grew up in the Toronto area, Bonnie in the east end and Brian in the west end suburb of Etobicoke. Prior to the team moving to Scotiabank Arena in 1999, Bonnie spent time working during Maple Leafs’ games at a concession stand in the corridor behind the green seats section at Maple Leaf Gardens, the third level of the arena.
As natives of southern Ontario, Ryan and his parents know all too well about what comes with playing for the Maple Leafs. About a passionate fan base that hasn’t seen the franchise win the Stanley Cup since 1967, let alone a Stanley Cup Playoff series since 2004.
And, most importantly, about the unreached expectations of a team in an omnipresent fishbowl that already boasts elite talent like forwards Mitchell Marner, Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and William Nylander, and defenseman Morgan Rielly.
Even after helping the St. Louis Blues win the Stanley Cup in 2019, when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, O’Reilly admitted he thought about how cool it would be to wear the blue and white Maple Leafs jersey one day. He just never allowed himself to think it would become reality.
Until it did.
“Absolutely,” he said. “My parents grew up in Toronto. My wife (Dayna) is from here. I have a lot of ties here. Always thought about it, but never really thought it would actually happen.
“Just kind of shocked that I’m playing here.”
Others aren’t, including Dallas Stars coach Peter DeBoer.
DeBoer is a family friend of the O’Reillys and has a summer residence in the Lake Huron community of Bayfield, Ontario, where Bonnie and Brian now live. Brian has been a high-performance life coach for more than four decades and once worked with DeBoer’s kids at one of Brian’s so-called “boot camps” in nearby Goderich.
Although the Stars were fresh off a disappointing 4-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday, DeBoer did take a minute from his media availability on Sunday to discuss the impact the trade to Toronto would have on Ryan and his family.
“I believe some kids grow up in Ontario and are meant to play for the Leafs,” DeBoer said. “I think Ryan is one of those guys.
“When you are around his family and see the impact they have on everyday life, whether it’s raising money mentoring youth or bringing awareness to mental health in small town Ontario, the entire province should be cheering this guy on.”
At times on Saturday night, when O’Reilly made his Toronto debut, it seemed like that was exactly the case.
Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe, for one, helped the cause by putting O’Reilly in the starting lineup. When the list of starters was read out loud in the Toronto dressing room, cheers erupted from the players. The same happened when they were read in the arena by the public address announcer.
Keefe said he understood what he calls “the moment” would mean to O’Reilly. It was his first game with the Maple Leafs. On Saturday night. A nation was watching on “Hockey Night in Canada.” And the fact that it came against the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto’s most storied rival, was the icing on the cake.
“That was pretty crazy,” O’Reilly said. “I’m just glad I won the draw. I had a lot of family here, so it was special for them, too.”
Just like it was for O’Reilly’s sons, Jameson, 4; and Declan, 2. Brian shared a video of the boys cheering when they saw their dad on TV in a Maple Leafs jersey accompanied by the tweet: “This is the best picture video ever. His kids are so excited to see their daddy playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs!”
So, too, were Brian and Bonnie. And when Ryan got his first point with the Maple Leafs, an assist on a goal by Michael Bunting in the second period of the 5-1 victory, Bonnie, who was seated in Section 112 of Scotiabank Arena, shrieked with joy, much to the chagrin of Brian’s hearing.
“He might be deaf for a while,” she said with a chuckle. “But I hope to do it more. That means Ryan’s doing really welI.”
* * * * *
Graham Nesbitt is choked up with emotion.
In a phone interview Sunday, he’d been talking about the excitement the O’Reillys, his longtime family friends, were having regarding Ryan’s trade to the Maple Leafs. He’s chatty, insightful, full of zeal.
Then the topic comes up about how Bonnie helped save his life. And all that changes.
“I can’t find the words,” he says, struggling to express himself. “I mean, such a sacrifice …”
He stops there, and understandably so. No more words are needed.
Nesbitt was the longtime manager of the Seaforth & District Community Centre in Seaforth, a town of 3,000 people about 116 miles west of Toronto, where Ryan, a native of nearby Clinton, grew up. He’d often go out of his way to let Ryan and his older brother, Cal, who’d go on to have 49 points (16 goals, 33 assists) in 145 NHL games with the Nashville Predators, Phoenix Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres, into the rink on snow days or during off-hours so the kids would have extra time on the ice.
Years later, Bonnie would pay Nesbitt’s generosity back in a big way for helping her boys on their path to professional hockey by donating one of her kidneys to him.
In 2011, Nesbitt was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy, also known as Berger’s disease. Patients with the disease build up an antibody in the kidneys that over time can limit their ability to filter blood. Medication helped control Nesbitt’s condition until 2019, when it became clear he’d need a kidney transplant.
On March 3, 2021, the transplant surgery was done in London, Ontario, with the Blues subsequently sharing a photo on social media of Nesbitt and Bonnie giving the thumbs-up from adjacent hospital beds.
“What can you say? What is there to say?” the 67-year-old said. “She saved my life.”
Nesbitt had previously approached the O’Reillys asking if Cal and Ryan could use their social media platforms to find a donor. When Bonnie found out she was a match, case closed.
“I’ll always be grateful for what he did for my boys for their journey to pro hockey,” Bonnie said. “It was the least I could do.”
On Friday night, Nesbitt received a text from his son, Derek. The message: Ryan and teammate Noel Acciari had been traded to Toronto from the Blues as part of a three-team deal that included the Minnesota Wild.
“When I received the kidney from Bonnie, Brian warned my wife Pam and I that if I started jumping up and down during hockey games, that’s Bonnie because she runs around carrying on and screaming during hockey games,” he said. “So when I saw Ryan was going to Toronto, I thought ‘This is going to be crazy. I know they’re both going to be going nuts.'”
In some respects, all of Seaforth was doing the same Saturday.
“I bet every person in town was watching that game and celebrating that Ryan is a Leaf,” Nesbitt said. “I mean, when Ryan brought the Stanley Cup here in 2019, there were Blues T-shirts everywhere with his name on them. Count on those being replaced by Leafs jerseys all over the place.
“I bet by the end of the week there will be Toronto O’Reilly No. 90 jerseys in the local store, and going fast.”
Both Nesbitt and DeBoer talk about the humility of the family, as evidenced by the family’s count of there having been 47 foster kids from southern Ontario in their home over a 20-year period. The stints could be short, or as long as four years.
“I think it taught the boys humility,” Bonnie said. “It showed them to appreciate what they have and how not everyone is as fortunate.”
Traits that can be found in Bonnie and Brian, DeBoer said.
* * * * *
O’Reilly grew up more of a Wayne Gretzky fan than a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, his parents said.
And when he did wear a Toronto jersey for one of the first times, it was a rather forgettable experience.
“I brought him to the rink when he was only two,” Brian recalled. “I hadn’t really fully dressed him. He had a Toronto jersey on, one of those bucket helmets … and he was in a diaper.”
The local newspaper thought the image of young Ryan was cute and ran a photo of him the next day looking like that. When Bonnie saw the published picture, she snapped.
“I gave Brian so much [grief],” she says now with a laugh. “I was relentless on him. I kept telling him, ‘How could you let him out like that without being fully dressed?'”
Ryan, of course, is all grown up now. And now it’s his turn to help kids.
On Friday, hours before the trade had been completed, 5-year-old Hank Walker was granted his wish of playing hockey with O’Reilly.
The young fan made the wish through the Make-A-Wish Foundation in 2020. He was diagnosed with posterior urethral valves, obstructive membranes in the bladder, as a baby. The condition required him to receive a kidney transplant.
Hank started his day by signing a one-day contract with the Blues as St. Louis general manager Doug Armstrong and O’Reilly looked on. He then took to the ice with the likes of O’Reilly and Blues forward Brayden Schenn, and even had a chance to practice his celebration skills.
Hours later, Bonnie was doing the same when Ryan told her he was a Leaf.
“It was bonkers, chaos,” she said.
It would have been a short flight from St. Louis to Chicago to meet the Maple Leafs for their game against the Blackhawks on Sunday. Instead, Keefe said both players were “adamant” they wanted to get to Toronto and play against the Canadiens on Saturday.
There was just one problem. Both players didn’t have their equipment, which was at the Blues facility when the trade was made official.
“O’Reilly might have found a way to acquire the keys to the building to go get his gear,” Keefe said, breaking into a wide grin. “And he grabbed Acciari’s while he was there. That just speaks to what those guys are about.
“There’s the on-ice things that everyone’s going to see. I got a glimpse into what they’re going to bring to our room.”
Following a 5-3 loss to the Blackhawks on Sunday, the Maple Leafs will continue their road trip at the Sabres on Tuesday.
O’Reilly played with the Sabres from 2015-18, getting 176 points (65 goals, 111 assists) in 224 games. After Buffalo finished 31st in 2017-18, he said he’d lost his love for hockey and added the franchise had adopted “the mindset of losing.”
He was subsequently traded to the Blues in a multiplayer deal that landed Buffalo forward Tage Thompson, who entered Sunday third in the NHL in goals with 36. Indeed, there will be no shortage of storylines for this game in Buffalo, which will see O’Reilly become part of the Golden Horseshoe Rivalry once again, this time for the despised Maple Leafs.
Which is exactly who he wants to be with, according to TSN analyst Carlo Colaiacovo. The former defenseman with both the Maple Leafs and Blues tweeted this weekend that the decision was made in advance by O’Reilly and his family that Toronto would be his destination of choice.
“And can you imagine if he could actually win the Cup with Toronto,” an excited Bonnie said.
Well, can you?
Raptors' Nick Nurse 'Gonna Take a Few Weeks to See Where I'm at' After Season Ends – Bleacher Report
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse is unsure of his future with the franchise beyond the 2022-23 campaign.
Nurse told reporters ahead of Friday’s matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers that he’s going to take his time deciding on whether he wants to forge ahead as Toronto’s head coach beyond this season.
Nurse said, via ESPN’s Tim Bontemps:
“First of all, I think when this season gets done, we’ll evaluate everything, and even personally, I’m gonna take a few weeks to see where I’m at, you know? Like you said, where my head’s at. And just see how the relationship with the organization is and everything. It’s been 10 years for me now, which is a pretty good run. I don’t know, over those 10 years we got to be up there in number of wins with anybody in the league. I don’t know even know where that is, but we’ve had a lot of big seasons.
“And then, right now, my head is to make this as long of a season as possible. This team needs playoff experience. So that is where I’m at right now … finish out these six, see where we land, see if we can’t creep up a spot or two in the standings, and then give them hell in the playoffs, see if we can get in a real series and take it from there.”
Nurse added that he has not considered his future being somewhere other than Toronto after the 2022-23 campaign.
The 55-year-old has been with the franchise for 10 years. He has been head coach of the Raptors since the 2018-19 season and he served as an assistant for the franchise under Dwane Casey from 2013 to ’18.
In his five seasons as Toronto’s head coach, the team has gone 224-160 and has made three postseason appearances, including a trip to the NBA Finals in 2019, where the Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors in six games.
However, the Raptors have struggled to a 38-38 record this season entering Friday’s game against the Sixers. The team currently sits ninth in the Eastern Conference and isn’t expected to contend for a title this year.
If Nurse and the Raptors part ways after this season, it will be interesting to see whether he retires or searches for another head coaching gig. He has been linked to the Houston Rockets, but there’s been no indication that he would take that job.
Harnden brothers together again for World Curling Championship – SooToday
With the World Men’s Curling Championship set to open up in Ottawa this weekend, E.J. and Ryan Harnden are set to reunite on the curling rink.
The Sault Ste. Marie brothers, who were teammates for years with Brad Jacobs and his northern Ontario-based team for years before the team disbanded at the end of last season, are back together as members of Brad Gushue’s Newfoundland and Labrador-based team that will represent Canada at the tournament.
E.J. joined the Gushue rink full time in the off-season while Ryan will be with the team as an alternate.
“Joining E.J. is going to be special,” Ryan said. “Joining a group like these guys, who have won so much over the last seven years, I have a tremendous amount of respect for this team. We’ve battled in some big games over the course of our careers, but that respect level has always been there.”
“Anything I need to do, anything they want me to do, I’ll be there to help make their lives a little bit easier so they can relax and focus on curling. That’s my primary goal,” Ryan added.
Gushue said experience played a role in adding Ryan as their alternate.
“Ryan has been one of the best leads in the world the last number of years,” Gushue said. “The ability for him late at night to go out and match rocks for us, we’re going to be confident that whatever he says, whatever he gives us, they’re going to be pretty darn close.”
Gushue added that familiarity with the team also helped.
“The familiarity there and the comfort he’s going to provide to the team,” Gushue said. “It’s not like he’s coming in and we need to learn about him.”
Ryan also said that getting a chance to join the Gushue rink took some of the sting off losing in the Brier final with Matt Dunstone’s Manitoba-based team.
“To come that close, it was obviously very disappointing,” Ryan said. “I’m honoured and very excited to join these guys. They’re a team I’ve respected for a very long time.”
E.J. called having brother Ryan joining the team for the Worlds “special.”
“Going back to that, obviously it was extremely hard playing against Ryan,” E.J. said of the Brier final. “We have a really close relationship and I think everyone got a really good inside look at that throughout the Brier and especially into the playoff round and the type of relationship that we do have. Both of us were very honest and genuine when we said, as hard as it was, that was a perfect scenario because at least one of us was going to win.”
E.J. added that “I probably felt every single emotion that I was able to feel simultaneously once we won.”
Both Harnden brothers also reflected on their last World Men’s Curling Championship appearance, which was 10 years ago with Brad Jacobs’ rink.
“We were a bit of a deer in the headlights at that first Worlds,” Ryan said. “Being quite new onto the scene, we had some ups and downs. That prepared us very well for Sochi, even though the Olympics is a bit of a different beast. Having that international experience kind of opened our eyes of how much pressure there is wearing that Canadian flag.”
“It’s hard to prepare for what that feels like when you’re now representing your country,” E.J. added. “That was a great learning experience for us to be able to separate from those expectations and focus on what it is that we need to do as individuals and as a team in order to maximize our play on the ice and focus on the things that are within our control.”
E.J. joined the Gushue rink in the off-season after Team Jacobs announced near the end of last season that Jacobs was stepping away from competitive men’s curling for the time being. E.J. said transitioning to his new team has been “going great.”
“To still be able to learn and absorb knowledge has been great,” E.J. said. “I feel like that’s only going to help me of these next number of years continue to improve and become even a better player than I am now, which is a great feeling.”
E.J. added that his new teammates – Gushue, Mark Nichols, and Geoff Walker – “have been really easy to get along with.”
With E.J. and Caleb Flaxey, also a Sault native, on the team this year, Gushue said both have mixed in well, E.J. as second and Flaxey as a coach.
“We’re at very similar stages in our life. We’re similar ages and have a lot of similar interests. We have good chats and it’s nice to be able to bounce some stuff off him and him bounce some stuff off me and we also like our quiet time too,” Gushue said of E.J.
“Caleb’s very detail-oriented,” Gushue added. “It’s nice to have him on board and take care of a lot of the stuff, some of the things I had to deal with over the last number of years.”
Gushue joked that while Flaxey’s rock experience wasn’t quite at the level of longtime Canadian curling coach Jules Owchar, Flaxey is “just probably a little bit more organized than Jules.”
“Jules still does everything by paper and pen,” Gushue joked. “He’s pretty old-school where Caleb gets the laptop out.”
Ryan O'Reilly on his broken finger and injury rehab: "They said I needed surgery, so I'm thinking, 'Am I done for the season?' The timeline gave me relief… Playoffs are all that really matters” – Maple Leafs Hot Stove
For the first time since breaking his finger, Ryan O’Reilly met with the media to discuss his return to practice, his injury rehab, and the plan to ramp up for the playoffs.
How does the finger feel right now?
O’Reilly: It feels good. It has been four weeks now since it happened, but it feels good. We’re progressing. It is not 100% yet. We have to be smart. The goal is to be 100% for the playoffs.
It was nice to be out there skating with the guys. We are getting close here.
Would you be playing if this was the playoffs right now?
O’Reilly: Possibly. It is tough to say. We are in a good position with having the points.
It does feel good. It is just being smart and making sure we don’t have setbacks and can be ready for the right time.
Was there a sinking feeling and you knew right away when the puck hit you?
O’Reilly: I didn’t really know until I got off and was getting changed. Paul [Ayotte] the trainer came over, asked, and wanted to look at it. I kind of saw it was crooked. I knew it wasn’t good.
We saw the x-ray, and obviously, it was disappointing. But I didn’t really know. They said I probably needed surgery, so I didn’t know how long. Am I done for the season or not?
It was kind of good news that I wouldn’t be out too long and that it happened early enough. It wasn’t later in the season. I am just focused on getting ready for the playoffs.
How long did it take for you to find out the severity of it?
O’Reilly: It wasn’t too long after. They kind of gave me a timeline of four-to-six weeks after doing the surgery on it. I was really disappointed, but that kind of gave me relief with regard to the playoffs. That’s all that really matters.
What is the final piece you are waiting for until it would be 100%?
O’Reilly: The shooting and passing feel great. It is just the other stuff — the stick battles and all of that, and just being able to trust that it’s 100% strong in that.
Again, that is going to come. It is progressing. I feel like I could push it harder, but there is no point. We just have to be smart with it and make sure it heals the right way. It will help me down the road.
Does the fact that it is the lower hand on the stick make it more impactful?
O’Reilly: The top hand does a lot of work, too. Both do different things. For faceoffs, it is the bottom hand that carries a lot of the force, too. Either or play a vital part in it. It is just an unfortunate break. It happens.
Are you going to wear a modified glove when you come back to protect it?
O’Reilly: Possibly. Right now, I am wearing something that can protect it a little better. As we progress, we will kind of revisit it and see.
Have you circled a game for a return?
O’Reilly: No, we are kind of just taking it every couple of days, evaluating it, and seeing where we are at. We don’t really have a target yet.
Is it nice to be back into the full practice?
O’Reilly: I don’t like being in the red [jersey]. It stands out a little too much.
It was a good first practice to get back into the feel and be out there with other bodies. I think it will start from there.
How significant are the final few games and making sure you get into a game or two?
O’Reilly: Those will be great. It will be good for our lineup, too, to see how we are going to approach that first game and for me to get the timing back. You can skate all you want in practice, but the feel of the game, the pushing, the competing is something that you can’t really replicate.
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