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Bobby Ryan suits up at the Canadian Tire Centre for the first time in three months


This won’t be just another night or another game for Bobby Ryan.

In some ways, this will be a homecoming.

The Ottawa Senators’ winger made his return to the lineup Tuesday night against the Nashville Predators for the first time since he entered the NHL’s Players Assistance program to get help for alcoholism in late-November.

As the Senators open this two-game home stand against the Vancouver Canucks at the Canadian Tire Centre, the 32-year-old Ryan will get the opportunity to skate in front of Ottawa fans for this time since he went public with the reason he left the team Friday. He’s thrilled to be back playing after missing 42 games while entered in the program.

“It was really good and really nice to be back in competition mode,” Ryan told reporters in Nashville following the loss. “I can’t remember the nerves on a game day like this in a long, long time. That’s a good sign and a good feeling again. A win would have been really nice but there was some highs and lows in the game and the energy kind of dipped at points because of the time off.

“I kind of expected that but it was good to be back.”

Ryan played 15:38 against Nashville and had four shots on net with a couple of terrific opportunities. He saw power play time and is the club’s most experienced forward. Nobody is very worried about what Ryan accomplishes on the ice right now, they’re just happy he’s got help and he’s back. Performance expectations can be talked about later on.

“I thought he looked great,” Smith said. “He made a lot of plays, he was smart, he took short shifts, he had chances, had a breakaway but, just for him personally, after all he’s been through and it’s been public. It’s hard not to feel for him and be excited for him and his teammates were certainly very happy to see him out there.”

There was no need for Smith to take Ryan aside before the game to talk about the approach he might take as he makes his return. Ryan has been around a long time, he’s a professional and getting back into the swing of things is going to be a process. That’s just the reality.

“I let him do his thing. He played a lot of games in this league and he’s a really good pro,” said Smith. “He worked really hard to get to this point, he trained hard and you could see he looked quicker and his hands were good and he provided some spark for us. He was good.”

Ryan left the team on Nov. 19 in Detroit after entering the program and returned to Ottawa on Dec. 23. He spent a lot of time skating on his own before he was allowed to begin practising with his teammates again. The process hasn’t been easy, but he’s appreciated all the support he’s gotten from his wife Danielle, along with the Senators organization on the road to his return to the lineup.

Those days skating alone weren’t easy.

“For the first amount of time I came back it was very isolating and almost made it harder I was so isolated,” Ryan said. “You have to go through the protocol and I did that. As I got integrated things got easier and today was one of the best days I’ve had because there’s an end-game in sight and that’s a hockey game at night. Days like this come naturally when you’ve played so many and it was very nice to be familiar.

Since the game in Nashville was the second in a back-to-back after a 4-3 overtime loss Monday in Columbus, Ryan went for a skate in the morning at Bridgestone Arena because he wanted to get back into the routine of playing a game.

“I requested to skate by myself (Tuesday morning) so that was nice and it kind of killed some time,” Ryan said. “I wanted it to feel like as much of a normal game day as possible and the amount of down time for me has been troublesome. Today, I just kind of turned my mind off in the afternoon and got ready to play and it was very refreshing.”

Ryan said he wasn’t nervous by the time the game arrived because he was finally back where he’s most comfortable on the ice and you get the sense that’s the way it will be in his return to Ottawa.

“I was trying to take in a little more and I did that,” Ryan said. “The nerves kind of ratcheted up before as I was getting ready, more so than out on the ice, because once you get out there it’s not hard to get back to work.”

bgarrioch@postmedia.com

Twitter: @sungarrioch

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