Ryan O’Reilly and the pursuit of (unlikely) perfection

Ryan O’Reilly and the pursuit of (unlikely) perfection



Ryan O'Reilly
Colorado Avalanche forward Ryan O’Reilly is eight games away from tying a unique NHL record. (USA Today)

He had no choice.

Competing against his brother Cal and his friends, who were four years his senior, options were limited: Play well defensively or you won’t keep up.

Now 23, O’Reilly is an elite two-way forward in the National Hockey League. Not only does he lead the Colorado Avalanche in goals this season with 26, but he also tops all NHLers in takeaways with 73.

Considering Colorado boasts capable offensive hands in their Big Three — Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog — O’Reilly’s goal tally alone is noteworthy.

Perhaps most impressive, though, is a stat with a big fat zero beside it: Penalty minutes.

Through 70 games this season, O’Reilly, who has seen more ice than any other Avalanche forward, hasn’t spent a second inside the penalty box.

“When I was about 50, 55 games in, one of the guys said something (about the streak). I was kind of shocked that I haven’t had a penalty yet,” O’Reilly said on Wednesday in a phone interview from Denver.

With 10 games remaining in the Avalanche’s regular-season schedule, the pride of Clinton, Ont., is already in elite company. Nine more games without a trip to the sin bin and the 57-point man owns an NHL record, according to HockeyReference.com.

If that does happen, O’Reilly would surpass Butch Goring and Craig Ramsay for most consecutive games played in a single season without being assessed a penalty.

Somehow, some way, O’Reilly — a regular on Colorado’s power-play and penalty-killing units — has not been issued a minor or major penalty.

He hasn’t thrown a punch, been caught obstructing, got his stick stuck in a skate, or clipped an opponent by accident. Nothing of the sort.

“I don’t think I’m a guy who will complain to the refs too much, which is a good thing,” said O’Reilly, trying to explain the anomaly. “Now, with it being my fifth season, (the refs) understand the style of game I play.

“I’m not a very dirty player. I think the odd time I might have gotten away with something.”

Respect from referees has helped, sure.

A switch from playing centre to manning the wing goes a long way, too. As does a healthy dose of luck.

O’Reilly’s active — yet controlled — stick work is up there as well.

“I’ve always worked on stick skills, whether it’s after practice or in the summer,” he said.

As it stands now, with Colorado preparing to host the Vancouver Canucks on Friday, O’Reilly is tied for sixth on the all-time no-penalty streak list. He missed two games in January due to a freak injury (he hurt his shoulder trying to join a group hug after a teammate scored versus Calgary), but has otherwise not missed a contest.

The only recent NHLer with a substantial streak is Kyle Wellwood. The undersized forward had a 59-game penalty-free stretch with the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2007-08 season.

Wellwood isn’t exactly a poster boy for toughness. And while O’Reilly isn’t either,at 6-foot, 200 pounds, he’s far from a pushover.

“Obviously, it’d be kind of nice to have a couple penalty minutes to show I’ve got some toughness to my game,” O’Reilly said with a laugh, “but it’s still cool (that it shows) I can still be effective and stay out of the box.”

Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Rob Scuderi, with zero penalty minutes in 43 games, and Chicago Blackhawks forward Ben Smith, with two in 66, are O’Reilly’s closest peers this year.

Scuderi’s feat is significant in its own right, but he’s been injured. Smith, on the other hand, simply doesn’t play much.

If O’Reilly finishes strong, he should receive a nod for the Lady Byng Trophy, an award handed out to the “best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

The Frank Selke Trophy is another possibility for the takeaway leader. After all, O’Reilly has been one of the league’s best defensive forwards, making a case to challenge the Pavel Datsyuks, Patrice Bergerons and Marian Hossas of the world for the honour.

Personal recognition or not, O’Reilly’s said his thoughts are squarely on a deep playoff run.

The rest, including the potential penalty-free season O’Reilly is chasing, is just noise.

“It’s never really in mind that I need to stay out of the box. I just hope to play the right way,” he said.


Ryan O’Reilly rolls out a yoga mat before most games.

Whether he likes to admit it or not, the time he spends on that mat surely has an impact on his gentlemanly play.

It can’t be a coincidence that the player with no penalty minutes in 70 games enjoys a few minutes of physical, mental and spiritual alone time prior to his first shift.


“I love to do yoga for my body and trying to avoid injury,” O’Reilly said. “Being in the right state of mind, to feel good. I don’t think it has anything to do with staying out of the box.

“I love to compete and play hard and stuff, but I don’t think it can correlate anyway.”


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