It's a good bet Ryan O’Byrne made lifelong Colorado Avalanche fans out of 28 kids on Tuesday morning.
O’Byrne directed play and took a few swats at the ball during a pickup game of street hockey with the youth hockey players on the outdoor sports surface at Kirby’s Source for Sports in Saanich.
Complete sets of new hockey gear, from sticks to skates, were handed out to each of the 28 youths, purchased by the NHL Players’ Association Goals and Dreams foundation.
“All the kids are from different backgrounds and different situations in life,” O’Byrne said. “Some have played more than others, a few haven’t played at all, and they’ve been chosen by their local hockey association because they showed strong values.”
O’Byrne is a St. Michaels University School grad and former junior A player with Victoria Salsa (now Grizzlies) and Nanaimo Clippers, and is readying for his third full season with the Avalanche. The 6-foot-5 defenceman is two weeks away from hosting the inaugural Ryan O’Byrne Charity Camp, a week long hockey school instructed himself, local coach Max Young, and single day appearances from guest NHLers Jamie and Jordie Benn (Dallas Stars), Manny Malhotra (Vancouver Canucks) and Clayton Stoner (Minnesota Wild).
The camp will also feature WHL players Keenan Kanzig of the Victoria Royals, Sam Grist of the Tri-City Americans, and BCHL players David Walchuk of the Victoria Grizzlies and Josh Bryan of the Nanaimo Clippers.
Young, who last coached the major midget South Island Thunderbirds, played with O’Byrne on the provincial midget champion Racquet Club Kings 13 years ago.
All of the proceeds from the hockey camp are going to KidSport Victoria, enough to cover the registration grants for 28 players.
“Altogether (the NHLPA and KidSport money) is $30,000, a huge lift to the youth hockey community in Victoria,” said Patti Hunter, chair of KidSport Victoria. “For (O’Byrne) to choose KidSport is awesome.”
“My parents taught me to appreciate things,” O’Byrne said.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to play in the NHL and I remember the volunteers who helped me along the way.”