Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, a fan of all the local teams. As he has gotten older, his loyalty to the laundry has lessened while it has grown stronger to the fraternity he joined in 2003, that of the Boston College athlete — to which his wife, Sarah, also belongs.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs concluded on Saturday night, with the New York Rangers succumbing in five games following a double-overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings. During the series, as was the case during much of the playoffs, Ryan pulled for the Rangers, among the Philadelphia Flyers’ most fervent rivals. This was because of Rangers forward Brian Boyle.
Boyle, a Massachusetts native, arrived on Boston College’s Chestnut Hill campus the same year as Ryan (two good Irish names, if ever there were any) and they lived on the same floor in the same dormitory and shared the same weight room.
Ryan estimated that he watched a majority of the Rangers’ 25 postseason games. When the topic of divided loyalties — the Rangers played Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs, winning in seven games — was pointed out to Ryan, he did not shy away.
"I was kind of (a Flyers fan) growing up but it’s been one of those things, as I get older or whatever, I root more for the guys, so the guys I know," he said. "And I don’t know (Rangers forward Chris Kreider, another Boston College product) as well. He was after my time at BC, but I know Brian really well. We came in the same year. He lived right next door to me my first year and was there living with us during the summer. The hockey team was up there, too. I’ve been following him. He’s played well. I think he’s played really well. Penalty kills, he’s done a great job."
Ryan said this last Tuesday, as the Rangers trailed in the series 0-3. In fact, if the Rangers would have extended the series to six games, it would have been in large part because of Boyle’s penalty-killing. With the game tied 1-1 in the second period on Saturday, he scored a shorthanded goal to put the Rangers up 2-1 at second intermission. Alas, as was the case for much of the series, the Rangers led but could not maintain their advantage on the scoreboard. Los Angeles tied the game in the third period and prevailed after 85 minutes. The Rangers lost three games in the series in overtime, twice in double overtime.
"How about the first goal last night?" Ryan said of Game 3, as Los Angeles’ Jeff Carter scored the game’s first goal with less than one second left in the first period, the result of Rangers’ defenseman Dan Girardi’s sliding to block the shot that resulted in the puck deflecting off his skate and into the net. "They play with such great effort but last night that effort probably killed them right there. That’s just a fluky thing that goes in the net."
Effort is also something that Ryan admired in the 6-foot-7, 244-pound Boyle, the seventh of 12 children — as well as Boyle’s skill at wiffle ball.
"He’s a great guy," Ryan said. "From a huge family. I think he falls somewhere in the middle but, yeah, great guy. Good wiffle ball player. Good wiffle ball pitcher, no lie. But could hit, too. We used to play a lot of wiffle ball when we were all freshman. We kind of lived in this one spot.
" … Great work ethic. One of the strongest guys in the weight room I’ve ever been around — football or whatever. When I first got there, our facility was all one. Football worked with everybody. One of the strongest I’ve ever been around. Just salt of the earth kind of guy. Fun to hang out with but when it was time to work, knew how to get down to business."
Ryan said he keeps in touch with Boyle, reconnecting once or twice a year. Most recently, he said he was in touch after the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs ended.
Unlike football players, NHL players are drafted in the year when they turn 18. Boyle was selected in the first round, somewhat coincidentally, by Los Angeles in 2003. Ryan redshirted as a freshman so even though he and Boyle arrived at the same time, Boyle bolted school as soon as the Eagles were eliminated from the NCAA tournament in 2007, playing two regular season and 16 playoff games for the Kings’ American Hockey League affiliate, while Ryan remained for his senior year and was drafted by the Falcons in 2008.
Clearly, Ryan follows his alma mater closely, no matter the sport. He commented on the number of Boston College players in the NHL during the playoffs (there are about 15 in the league) and mentioned that the Eagles have won NCAA titles in men’s hockey two years before he arrived and three times since he left. He also mentioned that Johnny Gaudreau, who won the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s top men’s hockey player, followed a similar path to Boyle, turning pro immediately after the Eagles lost in the Frozen Four national semifinals this past season.
With the NHL season having concluded and mini-camp set for the Falcons to conclude no Thursday, the two former Eagles will have time to reconnect again soon.
"He was the kind of guy that if you haven’t talked to him in two years and you called him for something," Ryan said of Boyle, "he’d hit you right back and do whatever he could to help you."