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O'Byrne gives back to kids at camp

NHL defenceman who played here puts on charity event for youth
O'Byrne will announce Wednesday how much the camp has raised for KidSport.

Colorado Avalanche defenceman Ryan O'Byrne was back Monday where it all began.

When the B.C. Hockey League product, who played for the Victoria Grizzlies and Nanaimo Clippers and with the NCAA at Cornell, cracked hockey's pro ranks, he promised himself he would give something back to the place that created him as a player.

That place was the Racquet Club of Victoria, now known as the University of Victoria Ian Stewart Complex. It's the site of the first Ryan O'Byrne Charity Camp for 9-to 12-year-old players, which began Monday and runs through Friday.

All proceeds from camp registrations go to KidSport, an organization that pays the sports registration and equipment fees for children whose parents can't afford it. It will be a big day Wednesday for O'Byrne when he officially announces the total raised and presents a cheque to KidSport.

On Monday, forward Manny Malhotra of the Vancouver Canucks was the first of several celebrity volunteers who will act as camp clinicians. On Wednesday, it will be the Saanich Peninsula's Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars while Juan de Fuca product Tyson Barrie of the Avalanche visits Thursday.

Also helping out are the several other players from the Island who play pro in the ECHL, AHL and Europe. As a treat for the camp kids, the pros will play a scrimmage game Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m.

"This speaks to Ryan's character, that he is willing to give back like this," said Claremont Secondary graduate Spencer Carbery, head coach of the pro South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL, who was volunteering at the camp Monday.

"He realizes hockey gave us so much and that we need to give something back to help the youth."

Much of the behind-the-scenes preparation for the camp was done by O'Byrne's old friends Dylan Fraser and Dave Jawl, who came up with O'Byrne through sports and St. Michaels University School.

"It's helped me learn the business side of life," O'Byrne said of the myriad details that go into starting and operating a camp such as this.

But it's on the ice where O'Byrne is clearly most comfortable. He was a kid again Monday and seemed to enjoy the camp as much as the participants.

"It's been great. The kids are awesome," the six-foot-five NHL blue-liner said.

"They are receptive and eager to learn. The kids just loved Manny [Malhotra]. He said he would come across for an hour but stayed for three."

This is O'Byrne's first experience as clinician or coach, so being on the other side of the whistle is something new for a guy more used to being told what to do in practice by coaches.

"It's a different hat, but it's a lot of fun," O'Byrne said.