OTTAWA - Bobby Ryan is the first to admit that he and Randy Carlyle had a tumultuous relationship. But he also knows his former head coach made him a better player.
Ryan, now with the Ottawa Senators, played under Carlyle for parts of five years with the Anaheim Ducks. Carlyle is now coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs and the two will face each another in a pre-season game in Ottawa on Thursday.
The 26-year-old Ryan, acquired in a trade from Anaheim July 5, is anxious to make a name for himself with the Senators and isn’t interested in dwelling on the past. When asked about his relationship with Carlyle, Ryan said it may have been misunderstood.
"It wasn't a bad relationship, it just wasn’t a great one," said Ryan. "That's all it was. He's a tough coach and I still really do owe him quite a bit for becoming the player that I am and that isn't lost on me one bit."
Ryan first arrived in Anaheim as an eager 20-year-old looking to live up to his second-overall selection in the draft. But after just four games in the NHL, he was sent down to the American Hockey League and ended up playing just 23 games with Anaheim. Over the next 3 1/2 years, Ryan and Carlyle had their share of disagreements.
Looking back, Ryan admits he may not have had the emotional maturity to deal with Carlyle.
Some believed the animosity between the two became so bad that it played a factor in Carlyle being fired after just 24 games in the 2011-12 season.
"I get sometimes he was a little too hard on me and that was just being young and not taking things the right way that's all it was," said Ryan. "I don't think it was any reason that he was let go or anything like that. I just wish I hadn't taken things so personally when it came across. That's all it was. I truthfully don't think he had anything but the best intentions for me in his mind.”
Known for his abrasive style, Carlyle isn't one to mince words. Ryan described him as demanding and tough, but in the same breath said he was fair and that he "wants to get the best out of you."
"I probably took things a little too personally, but I've gotten older and a little more mature," said Ryan. "We are not going to say hello or anything, but it certainly won't be something where I'm aiming a puck at the bench that's for sure."
When asked about Ryan, the Leafs coach also chose to leave any ill will behind the two in the past.
"I think Bobby was a young kid that had a different body make-up from what he is now," said Carlyle. "He put (in) a lot of time and effort, and it's a tribute to him to get himself in the type of condition that he is now versus where he came out of junior."
He called him a "very talented young player."
"He's a player that's dangerous as soon as he steps over the blue-line in the offensive zone," he said. "He can score from all areas, and he's got a tremendous amount of reach and skill. He's an offensive weapon that we'll have to deal with, and Bobby's growing into a pretty mature hockey player both on and off the ice."
If anyone understands the rift between Ryan and Carlyle it’s Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul, who had his own share of difficulties with Carlyle while playing in Anaheim. Lupul doesn’t anticipate Carlyle’s presence to play a part in Ryan’s performance.
"I'm sure he's got enough motivation," said Lupul. "He was traded, playing for a new team in a hockey market now. He's probably quite a motivated player this year."
As for Ryan, he’s looking forward to playing his first game in front of home crowd fans, by all indications, have been anxiously awaiting his debut.
"I’m looking forward to getting it out of the way," he said. "The excitement’s been building in the city and for myself for a long time. Hopefully we can reward them with a good game."
Ryan has only played in the Canadian Tire Centre once in his career so he expects it may take some time for him to get comfortable.
"You’re always supposed to feel comfortable at home," said Ryan. "If I can get a couple games here and start to build that comfort level here in this building it’s important if you're going to play 41 games in this building."
Notes: Senators head coach Paul MacLean said the injured D Eric Gryba and Curtis Lazar both skated on their own Wednesday morning. The recently signed D Jared Cowen will not take part in Thursday’s game against the Leafs.
— With files from Stephen Whyno in Toronto