If there was any animosity between Ryan O'Reilly and his teammates, it didn't show Saturday morning during his first practice back with the Avalanche.
Many feared that the return of O'Reilly would create an uncomfortable atmosphere surrounding the team, disrupting the cohesion the players had found in his absence. There was no sign that those fears were founded as the team took to the ice today in an early practice before heading out to Columbus for Sunday's game.
The 22-year-old center appeared subdued as the players did their pre-practice warm ups and had limited interaction with his teammates, but that soon gave way to some teasing and laughs with guys like Gabe Landeskog and Shane O'Brien. Once the drills started, however, it was as if O'Reilly had never left.
He skated on a line with Milan Hejduk and John Mitchell, immediately looking like that line had been together long before today. O'Reilly also clearly stayed in shape while the contract dispute lingered, keeping pace with the guys with little trouble. Coach Joe Sacco put him on the point during power play drills, and his reflexes and passing skills were crisp and fluid.
At the end of the designated practice, the boys gathered at center ice for their final stretches. As is customary, the "new guy" was sent to the middle of the circle to lead them. O'Reilly received cheers and stick taps as he reluctantly accepted the assignment.
The team split up into two groups after that, working various drills post-practice as they always do. It wasn't long, however, that Radar left the ice for the locker room, quickly followed by a hoard of reporters. His return shortly thereafter suggested that it was for their benefit that he left. He commenced with the traditional flipping of the pucks as the boys closed up shop. For the final few minutes, he, Landeskog and Patrick Bordeleau tried desperately to get the final puck in the bucket via a pass-and-flip challenge. After many close calls, O'Reilly finally succeeded and was met with cheers from the crowd. He grinned sheepishly, smiled genuinely at the fans and waved. From a distance, it seemed there might have been some relief on his face, realizing that his fans are still here and still rooting for him.
From Avalanche.com, O'Reilly speaks to the media in his first post-practice interview of the season:
O'Reilly will play on Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, centering a line with Hejduk and Mitchell. Ryan Wilson and Erik Johnson will join the team on the road trip although there's no decision yet on when they will return to the lineup. Both defenders practiced with the team today wearing the orange non-contact jerseys. Wilson left about halfway through the practice, while Johnson stayed until the end.