TORONTO – It was only a preseason game but it’s probably one the O’Reilly brothers will never forget.
The Buffalo Sabres beat the Toronto Maple Leafs, 6-4, Friday in Air Canada Centre in a back-and-forth affair that saw Ryan O’Reilly and older brother Cal take the opening faceoff on a line with Matt Moulson.
In the second period, Ryan O’Reilly tipped home Brendan Guhle’s point shot for a short-handed goal – Buffalo’s third in three exhibition games – and Cal O’Reilly’s low point shot was tipped home by Brian Gionta for one of the Sabres’ three power-play goals.
The O’Reillys’ mother, Bonnie, requested nearly three dozen tickets for the game when the family learned Cal, who is four years older than Ryan at age 28, was making his Sabres debut.
“Anytime you get over 30 tickets to a game, you should probably get in the starting lineup,” cracked a smiling Sabres coach Dan Bylsma. “They were just fighting over who was going to play center. Ryan said to me, ‘I’ll play wing and Cal can play center.’ ”
“It’s a pretty special moment, not only to suit up for the Sabres here for the first time but also with my brother,” Cal O’Reilly said. “A pretty special moment for us and for our family.”
It was shortly before the game when Bylsma told the O’Reillys the lines were getting a one-shift changeup and the two brothers were starting with Moulson. Ryan O’Reilly spent the rest of the game with Moulson and Gionta, while Cal centered Sam Reinhart and Justin Bailey.
“That was a real nice thing for him to do to give us that honor to play with each other and start a game,” Cal O’Reilly said. “It was really neat.”
“It was kind of funny. I don’t think we’ve ever been so polite to each other trying to work together, complementing each other,” said Ryan O’Reilly. “Usually we’re against each other and chirping each other. It was nice to be on the side of things working together trying to win and talking things out. It was a really cool experience.”
Ryan O’Reilly, of course, signed a seven-year, $52-million contract extension in July that’s the largest in Sabres history. But Cal O’Reilly did pretty well for himself too by getting a two-year, two-way deal that pays $700,000 per season, a huge amount in the AHL.
Cal O’Reilly has played 113 NHL games with Nashville, Phoenix and Pittsburgh, but none since getting six appearances for Bylsma’s Penguins in 2012. He had 10 goals and 51 assists last year for Utica, captaining the Vancouver affiliate to the Calder Cup finals, and should be a key player in Rochester this season.
“Almost every day, in our evaluation, the coaches have been impressed with Cal’s work, his intelligence and how he plays the game,” Bylsma said. “He plays it at both sides, he’s got smarts and patience and playmaking with the puck but he’s also been responsible and been good away from the puck.”
“I know first-hand how good of a player he is,” Ryan O’Reilly said. “I watched him at every level growing up. I’ve always tried to be like him, see what he does out there and pick up pieces that I learned from him. Getting to play with him is a dream come true. You never would have thought we’d be able to lace them up together. And even though it’s still only preseason, our family is really excited for it.”
Buffalo is finding the net well during preseason. The Sabres were held to zero or one goal in 37 games last season. They have scored 11 goals in their three exhibitions, although only four at even strength.
“Over the season, special teams are going to win games sometimes,” Ryan O’Reilly said. “I think our five-on-five play has got to be a lot stronger. But if your special teams perform like that, you find a way to win games and it’s big.”