The Adventure Of Texans Raising A NHL Athlete
Sep 28, 2018 01:48PM
● By Ashley Madonna
At the 2018 National Hockey League Draft, hosted for the first time in Dallas at the American Airlines Center, Wendy O’Reilly sat alongside loved ones waiting to hear her son’s name come across the speakers. All of the family’s friends and family from far and wide filled the stands and sat in anticipation. No one knew when the Carroll alum Ryan O’Reilly would be called or where he would be called to play. All they could do was wait.
Then, in the fourth round as the 98th overall pick, the Detroit Red Wings head scout took hold of the microphone and started announcing, “From Southlake, Texas...” and the crowd roared. Locals started to cheer and gave the homegrown hockey player an ovation as he continued on his athletic career on a higher level in his honorary second hometown.
While his parents, Wendy and Jim O’Reilly, have been longtime Southlake residents, the self-proclaimed hockey mom lived in Detroit with her sons, Michael, Brendan and Ryan, for a year. The three brothers took advantage of the local youth hockey teams in the Metroplex, but with their busy travel schedules consistently taking them north, the O’Reilly family knew it would be best for the boys to be closer to the action. So, in the summer of 2012, Wendy packed up the kids and moved across the country.
Parents are often known for making sacrifices and putting their kids before themselves. Not all parents would leave everything behind to jet across the country and help their children live out their sports dreams, but it’s exactly what the stay-at-home mom did. Jim kept things going in Southlake and continued providing for his family as the Senior Vice President of Business Development at National Bankruptcy Services, and Wendy ventured out on the “Detroit Adventure” with the boys, which led all three to play hockey on a higher level and landed one in the NHL.
Finding The Sport
Michael, Brendan and Ryan all started skating young. And before Ryan hit the ice, he spent years watching his older brothers play.
“At a very young age, I was going to the ice rink for my two older brothers’ practices and games, and then I asked my parents to let me play hockey as well, and they enrolled me in a learn to skate program,” Ryan says. “I loved the speed of the game and that you were always involved in the play.”
As each got more involved with the sport, moving from youth hockey to travel teams to junior elite leagues, the O’Reillys flew all over the country to compete in hockey-heavy states like Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Michigan. There just wasn’t a lot of local competition down south at the time.
“When they were playing youth hockey like that, they didn’t have a lot of other teams to play here. It was like a hockey island,” Wendy explains. “We had a top team and then you had to fly everywhere else to play the others.”
This meant Wendy got used to spending time on the road with at least one of her sons’ hockey teams. Or, sometimes, she would balance traveling with two boys playing in the same town but in different arenas against different teams.
“At least once a month, one of them was flying somewhere to play,” Wendy says. “Sometimes they would play in the same tournaments, but they would be at two different rinks in the same town."
So when all three were at traveling age, Wendy decided it was time for a change.
With tournaments taking them up north on such a regular basis, Wendy started to consider moving the boys up to have a central base in a hockey town. She knew one other mom who did the same thing a few years prior and had her reservations, but she took the plunge and kept an open mind to the opportunity it could bring.
“I remember thinking, ‘Oh gosh, I can’t imagine that,’” Wendy says. “And when we were on the verge of doing that, we just said we would see how it would go. And it made financial sense for me to go up with the boys.”
So right before Ryan started seventh grade, Wendy took the boys to Detroit with plans to stay for a year. With a 17-year-old, 15-year-old and 12-year-old, she still had her hands full, but she was able to travel as much as the boys needed – and by car instead of plane. And the O’Reillys only had to book one flight instead of five for the whole family to attend tournaments.
“When we lived in Detroit, most of our games were played in the Detroit area, along with a few games within driving distance to Toronto or Chicago, so we didn’t have to travel as much that year,” Ryan explains. “My dad worked in Dallas and then traveled to Detroit for the weekends while my Mom stayed with me and my brothers in Detroit.”
It might sound scary to pack everything up and head to a new city by yourself, but Wendy says she was able to come in and already know a set of the other hockey moms thanks to their previous traveling.
And the boys had a chance to be the kids playing on the top level of the most popular sport in town – comparable to football in most Texas communities.
“There was such a dense population of hockey fans,” Wendy says. “It was fun seeing their friends from school getting excited and wanting to come to their games across town.”
After the school year and the oldest Michael moved onto a junior elite team, Wendy went from having three boys constantly on the traveling tournament circuit to two. So she knew it was the right time to come back home.
“It was kind of seamless,” Wendy explains. “They fit right back into Southlake Carroll and went onto teams with coaches they already knew. We were right back in the same house. It was like we were on vacation in Detroit for a year.”
While it seems wild now, looking back, Wendy would do it all again.
“Since the boys were so happy, and they had a great experience, I would do it again,” Wendy says. “As a parent, you just kind of do whatever you need to do to help your child accomplish their goals. So, I just kind of took on that role. And it was fun!”
Brendan and Ryan both jumped right back into school. After Michael spent a season with the Palm Beach Hawks in the United States Premier Hockey League, he ventured off to Texas A&M University to join their collegiate team. Brendan spent a few years with the Tri-City Americans’ Western Hockey League before joining the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Saint John Sea Dogs last year. He also currently plays for McGill University’s collegiate team in Montreal.
Ryan, the last to leave Carroll as a junior to join the Junior Hockey League, went from the Dallas Stars U16 team to the United States Hockey League’s Madison Capitols. He committed to play on the collegiate level at the University in Denver, a D1 program, starting in 2019. Funnily enough, Jim Montgomery, the UD coach who recruited him to play for the Pioneers, has since joined the Dallas Stars as the new head coach for the upcoming season.
And now, Ryan is training with Detroit’s NHL team, the Red Wings. It was the home team he often looked up to while practicing for Detroit’s Little Caesars AAA Hockey Club, and he found out the news about his future with the Red Wings in the AAC, the home rink for the team he grew up watching.
“It’s just poetic,” Wendy says.
While it may seem like having three athletes playing on such high levels in different cities – different countries even – may pose a challenge, Wendy’s job makes it a little bit easier. She joined American Airlines four and a half years ago, right after moving back to Texas, which makes it a breeze to book a flight and visit her boys.
“Before, I couldn’t just pop on a plane. I’d have to wait until I built miles up,” Wendy says. “Working for American has been a game changer.”
She sacrificed a great deal to make it happen, but Wendy says it has all been worth it.
“My whole ‘hockey mom’ existence has been focused on whatever was the best for them,” Wendy says. “I always wanted someone to be there cheering them on.”
It’s nice to be able to see how far each of her boys has gone, but Wendy knows that hockey has done more than shape her sons’ careers. It also has built character.
“Just seeing the young men they have become has made it all worth it,” Wendy says. “Hockey has shaped their dedication and their drive and their whole personalities. They are boys who are focused and driven, and they are hard workers.”
But it definitely doesn’t hurt that the O’Reillys were able to celebrate Ryan’s next adventure with the O’Reilly’s biggest supporters.
“Someone told us it was like we were bringing everyone in for a wedding,” Wendy says laughing. “It was seriously one of the biggest blessings.”
Someday soon, Ryan will be back in Texas at the AAC playing in the NHL, even though he will sporting a red and white jersey rather than a green and black one. Regardless, Southlake will be eager to see its Texan hockey star hit the ice.