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Mother’s Day puts playoffs in perspective for some Ottawa Senators

On Mother's Day, it seemed only natural they would talk about mothers and grandmothers.

And pain and redemption.

The Ottawa Senators' unexpected 2-1 overtime victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final against the Pittsburgh Penguins was behind them. Ahead of them, Monday night at the same PPG Paints Arena, would be Game 2 against the defending Stanley Cup champion. But Sunday was a day to pause and speak quietly of matters far more important than who wins and who loses in a game best enjoyed by children.

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It was Bobby Ryan who set up the first goal and scored the overtime goal only a few hours earlier. But he was not thinking about what a great game he had; rather, about the year he had and how bittersweet it seems on reflection.

Up in the morning, he had sent a text to Danielle to wish his wife a Happy Mother's Day, her first. Little Riley was born last year, just in time to meet her grandmother, Melody Stevenson, for the first and only time. Short days later, Melody was dead at 57 from liver cancer.

Ryan said he found the day "almost poetic." This Mother's Day, he said, was "my first without being able to text my mom. But I woke up this morning and I was able to text my wife because it was hers.

"You take the good with the bad on a day like this."

Many people know the story of Bobby Ryan and Melody Stevenson, but for those who do not here is the condensed version of a very complicated story:

Bobby Ryan was once 12-year-old Bobby Stevenson.

His father, in a rage fuelled by alcohol, attacked Melody so viciously one fall day in 1997 that she ended up in hospital with a fractured skull, broken ribs and a punctured lung. The father was charged with attempted murder.

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Out on bail and – it's complicated, remember – forgiven by his wife, Bob Stevenson decided to run and hide. They left their home in New Jersey and ended up in Southern California, the father calling himself Shane Ryan and the hockey-loving son now known as Bobby Ryan.

There was no further violence, but the running away eventually caught up to the small family. The father was caught and in 2000 began serving a four-year prison term. Now essentially a single mom, Melody did everything she could to keep her son in the game he loved, including taking on two full-time jobs.

Bobby Ryan decided to stick to the name by which all his teammates knew him. He came to Canada to play junior hockey and began professional analysis to help work through the demons. Four years ago, in a profile that appeared in Sportsnet magazine, he let out his great secret.

Last year, after Melody died, Bobby Ryan penned a heart-breaking tribute to her in The Players' Tribune, accompanied by a photograph of Melody holding the little granddaughter she would meet but once.

"You worked 16 hours a day so that I could realize my dreams of a professional hockey player," he wrote. "You got a job as an assistant GM at the rink during the day so that I could skate for free and you worked at the check-in desk for an airline at night so I could fly on standby to go to tournaments with my travel team. And somehow you also found time to home-school me, make me dinner and teach me how to be a man.

"There were a lot of times when I could have screwed up or strayed in the wrong direction. But instead, I've realized all of my dreams. Every single one. And it was all because of you.

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"I love you so much, Mom. I miss you. Love, Bobby."

This past regular season was a struggle for Bobby Ryan, now 30. His play slipped and fans began turning on him, particularly in light of the seven-year, $50.75-million contract that makes him the team's highest-paid player and which runs through the 2021-22 season.

His play in the postseason, however, has been stellar, capped off by that dramatic breakaway goal that sealed Game 1.

"You can redeem yourself," he said Sunday. "I look at it as a complete restart."

Not far from where Ryan spoke, goaltender Craig Anderson played in the hotel lobby with his children, 5-year-old Jake and 3-year-old Levi, in for the game with their mother, Nicholle, who was diagnosed last October with a rare cancer found in the throat area.

Multiple times this season Anderson was excused from his hockey duties so that he could be with Nicholle as she underwent treatment. When he returned to play, he was always solid, often brilliant.

"It's hard to describe, isn't it?" said Ryan in admiration. "With everything that's been thrown on him and his family this year. … It's remarkable, I guess. I don't know what word is left to use to describe it. He's playing like a man possessed."

Anderson was quick to return the compliment. "Bobby's been one of our best players this playoff run," he said. "I think when we traded for him a few years ago, we were expecting the Bobby Ryan we've got right now. That's exciting to see as a player, as a team, as a teammate, as a friend.

"To see him have some success now and see him get a little bit of his swagger back, it's a good thing."

Anderson has never gone all the way in the playoffs. "This is probably the first Mother's Day when I've been playing," he joked.

Knowing that his wife and children are in the stands watching gives him what he called "an X-factor" – a bit of inspiration. They would all "take a little time" this Sunday to reflect on what really matters.

"We wouldn't be here without our mothers," he added. "And I know my kids wouldn't be the same without their mom.

"It's definitely a special day for everybody."

Video: Justin Trudeau and other Ottawa residents cheer on Senators (The Canadian Press)
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About the Author

Roy MacGregor was born in the small village of Whitney, Ont., in 1948. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2002, he worked for the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, Maclean's magazine (three separate times), the Toronto Star and The Canadian Magazine. More


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