Each year, the Bill Masterton Award is given to the National Hockey League player who best represents the values of the sport — perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game. Hockey icons including Bobby Clarke, Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman have claimed this honor.
The 2020 award went to Bobby Ryan of the Ottawa Senators for his emotional and gripping story. The winger’s journey to the NHL has been nothing short of astonishing.
Growing up, he had an incredibly complicated family situation. His father, Robert Stevenson, was charged with attempted murder of his wife and Ryan’s mom, Melody. Ryan, whose name was Bobby Stevenson at the time, was 10 years old.
His father then fled to Canada, where Ryan and his mother, who forgave him for the incident, would eventually join him. While they were trying to start a new life, Ryan and his dad changed their last name from Stevenson to Ryan after the movie “Saving Private Ryan”.
In 2000, Ryan’s father was arrested and brought back to New Jersey. He pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and fleeing while on bail, which resulted in him being sentenced to five years in prison.
Through everything that transpired in Ryan’s life, he continued to refine his hockey skills. No matter which part of North America he was calling home, he kept improving.
In 2005, Ryan was the second selection in the NHL Draft. The only other player picked ahead of him was a guy named Sidney Crosby.
Ryan has carved out a successful 13-year career playing for the Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators. In 833 NHL games, he has racked up 254 goals and 301 assists.
He has also produced in the postseason. In 51 playoff contests, he has put up 32 points.
However, Ryan is not done battling personal roadblocks.
Last November, Ryan decided to put his hockey career aside to focus on something a lot more important: his well-being. He took a leave of absence from the Senators to enter the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program, seeking treatment for alcoholism.
After receiving the help he needed, Ryan returned to the Senators for their Feb. 25 game against the Nashville Predators. This was his first time skating in an NHL contest in 100 days.
The real fireworks took place two days later when Ryan returned to Ottawa to take on the Vancouver Canucks.
He did not waste any time making an impact.
Midway through the first period, he tipped in a goal off a pass from the right point. As soon as he scored, Ryan lifted his stick into the air and let out a fist pump. His smile looked like a combination of jubilation and relief.
It was his first goal since Oct. 2. Once his name was announced as the scorer, the crowd started chanting, “Bobby! Bobby!”
The winger potted another score with just two minutes left in the game. The fans exploded with excitement and again chanted his name in approval. Just for good measure, Ryan polished off the night with an empty-net goal to complete the hat trick.
Ryan was emotional on Ottawa’s bench. Even after all the terrific moments in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles, that image is the highlight of this NHL season.
When asked postgame what that performance meant to him, Ryan said “everything.”
Ryan deserves a ton of credit for how he has worked through his off-the-ice battles. Too many times, particularly in professional sports, people are embarrassed to seek help when going through similar struggles.
He recognized he had a problem and sought assistance. That was very courageous of him, especially as a public figure.
The way the crowd reacted to Ryan’s hat trick was awe-inspiring. The fans knew what he had been going through, and they came out ready to support him.
Senators fans were obviously thrilled with Ryan, the hockey player. But it is fair to say most people in attendance, if not all, were more elated for Ryan, the person.
The tight-knit community that is the NHL will continue to rally behind him and support him as he battles alcoholism. While Ryan is facing an opponent tougher than any hockey player, he will not have to fight his demons alone.
The Masterton Award has never been given to a more deserving player.