Bobby Ryan is not one of those athletes or celebrities who is worried about trying to find a barber during the quarantine phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve been saving money on haircuts for years because I married a now-retired hairdresser from Newport Beach,” Ryan said with a laugh. “So I’m way ahead of the game. I’ve been getting my hair cut by her for 11 years now.”
But earlier this week, the pandemic lockdown forced a role reversal. For the first time ever, Ryan was the one who gave his wife, Danielle, a haircut.
While their two young children were taking an afternoon nap, the couple went to their patio for an outdoor haircut. Ryan was given strict instructions from Danielle on how to proceed with a pair of scissors.
“She told me exactly what to do,” he said.
And the verdict?
“She said, ‘It’s straight.’ So I’m all good,” he chuckled.
That Ryan is able to help out at home with something as complicated and delicate as a haircut for his wife is nothing short of remarkable.
Just a few months ago, Ryan was forced to leave the Ottawa Senators after suffering what he described as a panic attack during a practice with his teammates in November. For several weeks after that he was in isolation – away from his wife and kids – receiving in-patient treatment at a private facility for a battle with alcohol abuse.
Looking back, Ryan understands that if he didn’t complete that phase of the program just before Christmas, there is no telling how he would be able to handle the stress and pressure of the current COVID-19 quarantine.
“It would have been really bad going into this had I not gone through what I did back in the early part of December to get help,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine being isolated with my family. It wouldn’t have been good for my marriage, because I wasn’t in a good place to really help.”
The ongoing therapy sessions have drastically altered Ryan’s outlook on life, leaving him with a fresh perspective on how to tackle the challenge of the current lockdown.
“One of the things I’ve really learned in the past four and a half months is that there only a few things you can control. And what’s outside those limits are going to happen anyway,” Ryan said. “So just try and stay within the bubble. I can’t control the situation. I can only control thoughts.”
With a fresh approach, Ryan is now in a healthy frame of mind to provide a significant amount of support to his family during the quarantine period. His two children – who are on the verge of turning four and two – take up the majority of his time these days.
“We’re just trying to survive at this point,” he said, echoing the sentiment of many parents of toddlers. “I’ve had less time on my hands than usual, if you can believe it.”
Ryan and his family are riding out the pandemic in their off-season home in the Idaho Panhandle – almost a straight shot south of Trail, B.C. The area is so quiet, Ryan said he can count on one hand the number of people he’s seen in his community over the past few weeks.
“When you come to Idaho at this time of year, you’re forced to isolate by nature,” he said. “There’s not many people around here.”
The family made the decision to return to Idaho from Ottawa last month once they realized the NHL season was not going to be resuming in the foreseeable future. They hastily arranged airline tickets and were able to fly back on the final day the border remained open for non-essential travel between Canada and the United States in late March.
“We made some calls and got things together. We flew at the last possible moment,” Ryan said.
Prior to that, Ryan was observing an extended period of self-isolation in Ottawa after being on the Senators' team charter that returned from California with multiple cases of COVID-19.
Ryan recalls getting off the team charter in Ottawa and wondering if he was risking his own family’s health by returning home.
“I kind of felt like a bad parent getting off that plane and going straight home,” he said.
Ryan said he contemplated phoning Danielle and telling her that he was going to stay in a hotel in Ottawa. While they didn’t find out about any positive test results for a couple of days, Ryan had a hunch that trouble was on the horizon.
“We knew we were exposed, flying back,” Ryan said. “But I went home and was healthy through it all.”
The 33-year-old concedes he is torn as to whether or not he wants to see a resumption of the 2019-20 regular season.
On one hand, he felt rejuvenated in the eight games since returning to the lineup after his three-month absence. His brief return included a memorable hat-trick performance against the Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 27 in his first game on home ice since acknowledging his absence was due to treatment for alcohol abuse.
Even in the absence of live sports on television, Ryan said he won’t re-watch that magical night against the Canucks from two months ago. It conjures up too many feelings.
“I don’t want to watch it. I have seen it, but I get emotional every time,” he said. “So I don’t need to see it again.”
Given his age – and the fact the Senators were sitting at the bottom of the standings when the NHL paused – it probably makes more sense for Ryan to start preparing for next season.
“It’s probably better for the body to get ready for next year at this point instead of coming back after an extended period of time,” Ryan said. “I could go either way. Selfishly, I always want to play. It doesn’t seem likely, with where we’re at standings-wise that the Sens are going to be playing any games down the stretch. But I’ll keep training like we’ll be playing in two weeks.”
Without access to a lot of fitness equipment, Ryan has had to get creative to maintain his conditioning. He does some stickhandling inside the garage to keep his hand-eye coordination sharp, while a local gym loaned him a Peloton, which has quickly become his favourite piece of equipment.
“It’s incredible,” Ryan said. “Everybody seems to make fun of the Peloton and there’s a cult following, but the thing is incredible. The spinning is incredible, and I will be buying one when all is said and done here.”
Taking online spin classes is just one way in which Ryan has adapted to the temporary realities of the pandemic. He continues to have regular check-ins with a therapist as part of his recovery program, but he has to do that remotely as well.
“I have to do my therapy on the phone, so you lose that face-to-face dialogue that, for me, means a lot,” he said.
For now, the only face-to-face dialogue he is having is with his family – which suits Ryan just fine. He said he's so exhausted from spending time with the kids that he falls asleep by 8:30 pm on most nights.
“We’re just enjoying it. We were in a nice rhythm before I got back into the swing of playing after my time off this year, so I feel like we’re right back into that rhythm with me being home every day and not going to the rink,” Ryan said.“They haven’t gotten tired of me yet, I don’t think,” he added with a laugh.