Spending the NHL lockout on the bench of the Victoria Grizzlies as assistant coach was rewarding in its way for Ryan O'Byrne. But it just wasn't going to cut it for the Colorado Avalanche defenceman, who will suit up tonight for the Florida Everblades of the ECHL.
"Helping coach the Grizzlies was a phenomenal learning experience to see how [head coach and GM] Bill Bestwick and [Grizz assistant coach] Craig Didmon handled things," said O'Byrne, who is looking to stay in the sport as a coach or GM after his playing career.
"But at some point, you have to play some hockey. You can work-out as much as you want but nothing is like being in an actual game environment ... and I haven't played since April 7."
O'Byrne joins fellow-Victorian Taylor Ellington, 2007 second-round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks, on the Everblades blueline. Tonight's home game in Naples, Fla., is against the Greenville Road Warriors and Victoria-produced players Lee Baldwin and Brandon Wong.
Younger NHLers or prospects such as Victoria's Tyson Barrie of the Avalanche can play in the AHL during the lockout but veteran NHLers such as O'Byrne can't. And having responsibilities as the NHL Players Association rep for the Avalanche, O'Byrne couldn't go play in Europe like Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn of Victoria, who is with the Hamburg Freezers in Germany.
"My role in the NHLPA is very important to me and I couldn't fulfil those duties in Europe," said O'Byrne, who takes part in NHLPA conference calls up to three times a week and then relays information and keeps in touch with the Avalanche players through texts and emails.
The Victoria Salmon Kings skated in the minor-pro ECHL from 2004-05 to 2010-11.
"Because of the NHL lockout, there's a filter down and there are a lot of good players in the 'E' right now," said O'Byrne.