Commentary

Ryan rises

Ducks Olympian Bobby Ryan has overcome a difficult family past

Updated: February 15, 2010, 9:54 AM ET
By Robyn Norwood | Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com

On the Olympic ice in Vancouver, he will be Bobby Ryan of Cherry Hill, N.J., and the Anaheim Ducks.

That doesn't begin to tell the story of the 22-year-old forward for Team USA.

[+] EnlargeBobby Ryan
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesThe Ducks' Bobby Ryan scored 31 goals last season, his first full season in the NHL.

He began life as Bobby Stevenson, a name seemingly so far in the past it's as if it's only someone he once knew.

And he is as much Southern California's Olympian as he is Cherry Hill's, after moving to El Segundo at 11, and playing at rinks in Westminster and Lakewood for four years under an assumed name as a painful family saga unfolded.

"When people ask me my last name now, Stevenson does not even jump into my mind like it once did," Ryan said. "I always kind of thought Stevenson, even though I said Ryan. It was something that was there. But it really hasn't been for a long time.

"When people ask me where I'm from, I do say New Jersey, born and considerably raised, I guess," he said. "But when people ask where my hockey roots are, this is the place I say. This is where a lot of good things started for me."

Only three people can fully understand how Ryan reached this place in his life. They all will be in Vancouver -- Ryan, his mother, Melody Stevenson, and his father, Bob Ryan, both staying in an apartment Bobby rented for them and his girlfriend near the Olympic Village.

"It's amazing to me," his mother said. "You dream of the NHL, but who ever thinks, 'My kid's going to be in the Olympics'? It's beyond a dream. You don't even think that. You hope he gets to prep school and then to college or a little further. Before you know it, he's doing all these other things."

An October night in 1997 changed everything for Ryan's family

In a fit of anger after he had been drinking, Bobby's father, a former boxer then named Bob Stevenson, battered Melody so badly she ended up in the hospital. He was arrested on charges that included attempted murder.

Bobby, 10 years old, slept through it in another room, and was shielded from the details.

His father -- still married to his mother more than a decade later -- admits the attack was "wrong" and "a terrible beating" that disrupted what had been a happy family life.

In an act of forgiveness some people find hard to fathom, Melody Stevenson asked prosecutors to drop the charges after she recovered. When they refused, Bob Stevenson skipped bail, wandering through cities that included Vancouver, eventually settling in California under the name Shane Ryan.

Seven months later, determined the family would be together, his wife and son joined him. Little Bobby Stevenson became Bobby Ryan, a name change that later became legal.

"Bobby was our life," his mother said.

His father, unable to work without revealing his fugitive status, tried to earn money playing poker at Hollywood Park Casino. His mother home-schooled Bobby and took jobs at rinks so he could get free ice time. At night, she worked for Cathay Pacific Airways at Los Angeles International Airport so he could travel free or at discounted rates for hockey tournaments.

"She certainly for years sacrificed quite a bit -- any kind of a social life, any form of self-gratification -- and always put me first," Bobby said. "She really put herself on the back burner for many years and made sure I was well on my way before she finally did some things for herself."

A year after the family reunited, U.S. marshals tracked Bob Stevenson down in California and arrested him. He pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and jumping bail, and served four years in prison.

Bobby and his mother stayed on in California -- he won two national titles with the Los Angeles Junior Kings -- before he began his junior career in Michigan and Owen Sound, Ontario.

In 2005, eight years after the incident that upended the family, Ryan became the No. 2 pick in the NHL draft behind Sidney Crosby.

Last year, in his first full season in the NHL, he scored 31 goals as a rookie. His 28 so far this season ties him with Zach Parise of New Jersey for first among U.S.-born NHL players.

Somehow, all the upheaval left no apparent scars.

"I honestly think he would have been the same no matter what," his mother said. "He's always been very disciplined. He knows what he has to do and he does it, and at the same time, he's very easygoing."

His father, a trainer who works with weights known as kettlebells at former hockey great Bob Clarke's gym in Cherry Hill, believes sports made a difference.

"We were lucky with the people around him," his father said. "Today kids play video games. But hockey, Bobby's been doing it since he was 6. It gave him structure, and we had good coaches."

Separated during part of Bobby's youth by the time his father spent as a fugitive and later in prison, the two are now close.

"For a while, I don't think strained is the right word, I just think it was awkward," Bobby said. "But there's none of that any more. It's a very comfortable setting between all of us now. My dad and I talk every day, just about," he said. "We're good buddies now, I guess, is the best way to put it."

And when Bobby Ryan steps onto the ice in Vancouver, it will be with a name that he has earned on his own.

"All the success I've had has been through Ryan," he said. "You know, my dad's now a Ryan as well. I think we've all tried to leave it in the past as much as we can."

His father -- born Bob Stevenson, later Shane Ryan and now legally Bob Ryan -- will be watching, first from home and then in the stands.

"As long as this kid's happy, I could care less," he said. "The name on the back of the jersey doesn't matter."

Robyn Norwood is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.

Robyn Norwood

Contributor, espnW.com
Robyn Norwood, the only woman to serve as president of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, was a sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times for more than two decades. She has covered 11 Final Fours, two Olympics and the Super Bowl and visited almost every podunk college town in America.

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