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NHL player wipes away tears after emotional hat trick in return from alcohol rehab

Ottawa Senators right wing Bobby Ryan earned a standing ovation in his first home game after missing three months while in treatment for alcohol abuse.
/ Source: TODAY

Bobby Ryan's last home game for the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 15 was followed by him entering treatment five days later for a problem with alcohol.

His first game back in Ottawa was followed by an arena full of fans on their feet chanting "Bobby! Bobby! Bobby!", as the 32-year-old right wing wiped away tears on Thursday night.

Ryan registered an emotional hat trick in Ottawa's 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks in his first home game and second game overall since returning from treatment as part of the NHL's assistance program.

"I knew Ottawa being the community that it is that the reception would be good," Ryan told The Associated Press. "It just got harder to keep the emotions down throughout the game. It was incredible. They supported me and I got to contribute. You can't write that, the way that went. It was just an incredible evening, so thank you to all of them."

He earned player of the game honors after scoring three goals to help the Senators end a four-game losing streak.

After returning to the bench following his third goal, he wiped away tears as fans chanted his name during a standing ovation.

Ryan's three-goal performance was especially impressive given that he only had one goal in the first 21 games of the season before entering treatment. It was his first hat trick since 2014.

Many Senators fans came to Thursday night's game with signs welcoming him back, and he also received an outpouring of support online from fans of both teams.

"If his story helps even one person stand up and become accountable for their life and know that they can move past their own demons and create a better one - even if they fear ridicule or judgment - then I'm sure he'd go through it all again,'' one fan wrote. "Love the support the city gave him."

Ryan opened up about his struggles with alcohol ahead of his return this week.

"I was trying the white-knuckle thing and do things the wrong way," he told the AP. "I'd have 20 days of nothing and one real bad one and you just can't get better without (help). There's such a stigma around asking for help and I was trying to do it. I've done that for a long time."

Bobby Ryan celebrates one of his three goals against Vancouver in his first home game back since going to alcohol rehab. Fred Chartrand / AP

The NHL veteran has also previously spoken about his difficult upbringing, telling the Newark Star-Ledger in 2010 that his father was charged with attempted murder after beating his mother in a drunken rage.

His father then skipped bail and fled to Canada, where Ryan and his mother later joined him as the family lived on the lam using fake identities.

They eventually moved to California and changed their last name from Stevenson to Ryan after watching "Saving Private Ryan." His father was ultimately jailed for five years after being tracked down by U.S. marshals.

Image: NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Ottawa Senators
Bobby Ryan was named the first star after scoring a hat trick against the Canucks. Marc DesRosiers / Reuters

Ryan said his past did not contribute to his alcohol problem.

"I had a lot of issues surrounding that and I think for a very long time I just kind of put my head down and never dealt with any of it," he told the AP. "Check the metaphorical boxes from the time I was 15 on, and I got hit with waves of it the past little while and didn't deal with any of those waves right for a long period of time, and things just continued to escalate for the last three years.

"My therapy is going to continue. It's not fun, but it's something I need to be able to let go and put in my past and I've started to do that, but I feel great and at peace with a lot of it and I'm still continuing to let go of some more."

Following his magical return to Ottawa on Thursday, he also thanked his wife, Danielle, for helping him through a difficult time.

"To have her support and not just have her support as a hockey player, but as a husband and everything, it just means a ton," he told reporters after the game.