Ryan O’Reilly arrived in Buffalo over the weekend, and he’s spent his first few days tiptoeing around the Sabres’ dressing room.
“It’s a little shyness coming in,” the offseason acquisition said Tuesday. “You don’t want to give a bad impression with anyone or come off and rub someone the wrong way.”
Clearly, O’Reilly knows first impressions are important. He’s sorry about the one he made this summer on the Sabres and their fans.
Less than a week after signing the richest contract in team history, the 24-year-old allegedly crashed his pickup truck into a Tim Hortons and fled the scene. Ontario Provincial Police charged O’Reilly with impaired driving and other infractions. He is scheduled to appear in court Thursday in London, Ont.
“After this week it’ll be sorted out and I can comment more on it, but it’s an unfortunate situation,” O’Reilly said in First Niagara Center. “With the way the Sabres have invested in me and seen light in me, to be involved in a situation like that it’s definitely unfortunate. I would never want to do that, so I definitely apologize to all the fans and just the kids that see the situation.
“I’m not going to say exactly what has happened. That’s going to come out in court. I’ll just be happy when it’s taken care of and I can just move on and start playing hockey.”
Hockey is why the Sabres gave the center a seven-year, $52.5 million contract July 3. The team was eager to trumpet his arrival as the new No. 1 center. Then came the July 9 incident.
“It’s obviously something I’ve had to deal with all summer, and I feel horrible about it,” O’Reilly said. “It can be a little difficult at times, but everyone here has been nice about it and supported me and is hoping for the best. To have that, it makes it much easier. I just focus on being here and let that thing take care of itself.
“I’m not saying the outcome is set yet, but just to be in a situation like that and have it come out the way it’s been spun, it is unfortunate. I know families and parents and kids, it’s not a good message to send to them. Again, I do apologize and I will do what I can to make that up to them.”
Sporting success tends to help the healing process. After six seasons in Colorado that featured a Lady Byng Trophy and a 28-goal campaign, O’Reilly wants to help turn around an organization that has consecutive last-place finishes. Like the rest of the players who’ve begun arriving in Buffalo for informal workouts, O’Reilly eagerly anticipates the upcoming season.
“Being a part of it now and skating and talking with the guys, there’s an excitement,” O’Reilly said. “You have a sense that we want to make that change and become a legitimate team. More than anything, it’s just fresh. Everyone’s just excited, and it’s something we’ll continue to build on.”
O’Reilly, as much as anyone, has seen how quickly a team can turn around its fortunes. Colorado finished 29th in 2013 and third overall the following season while winning the Central Division.
“That year going from last up to first, it’s kind of the feeling we have now,” O’Reilly said. “We came in, we felt we had a different team and we just built off that.
“You can just tell guys want to get on the ice, want to start playing again. That’s the momentum and the mindset that you’ve got to have going into it.”
As O’Reilly slowly gets used to his new teammates, he’s quickly learning about his new city. He purchased a mansion near Delaware Park from former Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers, and it’s allowed him to get a feel for life downtown.
“Coming as a visitor, you don’t see much,” said O’Reilly, whose road trips typically consisted of a hotel and the arena. “Now after being here and getting comfortable and getting to see the other areas, the parks and the restaurants, you really see how nice of a city it is. The people have been really nice. It’s a hockey-loving town, so it’s great to be a part of.
“I’m a little nervous coming in, meeting guys and getting settled. You don’t want to be the guy asking for things all the time, so it takes a little bit to get comfortable with everyone. But it’s a good group of people, and every day I feel more and more comfortable. Once that gets taken care of, it’s nice to be able to focus on the hockey and focus on winning hockey games.”