Bobby Ryan says that he felt all along that there wasn’t a place for him on Team USA for the Sochi Games, and that he believed he’d be the odd man out when the roster was announced after Wednesday’s Winter Classic.
What he didn’t expect was to be humiliated, essentially in public, by his old boss.
Brian Burke, Team USA’s director of player personnel, and the man who drafted Ryan with the No. 2 pick in 2005, was quoted extensively in Scott Burnside’s piece detailing the process that went into selecting the American roster. The debates that were captured over various players were honest, and not always flattering, and Burke was particularly frank in his assessment of Ryan’s shortcomings.
He apparently made it clear early on that he could not support selecting Ryan, a player he’d chosen four years earlier to represent the U.S.A. in Vancouver. Among his choice arguments against selecting the Senators sniper:
“He’s a passive guy.”
“He is not intense. That word is not in his vocabulary. It’s never going to be in his vocabulary. He can’t spell intense.”
“I should have taken [Jack Johnson in the 2005 draft]. No way he lets us down for 12 days.”
To be fair, Burke wasn’t out to hurt Ryan’s feelings, or those of any other player for that matter. His sole motivation was to build the best possible American team, and his comments were in keeping with that goal. They were also consistent with an opinion that’s widely held around the league about Ryan’s game.
The perception isn’t news to Ryan, either. Still, he was gutted to hear the words spoken by someone he thought regarded him a little more highly. And so he lashed back:
“They were direct quotes,” Ryan said, according to Garrioch. “It’s unfortunate they feel that way. Actually I almost feel degraded when it comes out like that. That’s their decision and that’s how they feel about me. I will remember it and use it as motivation. That’s all you can really do.”
You can’t blame Ryan for feeling like he just had his pants pulled down in public, but expressing an honest opinion in a forum that demands it is something very different from gutless. Especially in light of Garrioch’s report that Burke had reached out to Ryan, who has yet to return the call.
He may decide to pick up the phone in a few days. Or he may not. Just like he may never pick it up again if USA Hockey comes calling.
That organization had to anticipate something like this might happen when it opened its confidential meetings to ESPN’s Burnside and USA Today‘s Kevin Allen. In fact, with the battle for spots more heated than ever before, it was all but inevitable.
Full marks then for having the courage to go through with it in an effort to promote the game … although the returns might seem a little meager if it costs the services of one of the country’s best goal scorers for 2014 and beyond.