The Montreal Canadiens Organization held their annual rookie dinner Sunday night in Tampa Bay.
As is traditional, all rookies host a big dinner for the veterans. Last season, the check was divided between Maxime Lapierre, Guillaume Latendresse, and Jaroslav Halak. This year, Carey Price, Sergei Kostitsyn, and Ryan O'Byrne footed the bill.
But this time, an incident interrupted the festivities.
O'Byrne, freshly recalled from the AHL, was accused of stealing a woman's purse in a chic South Tampa restaurant. The woman reported to some policemen that her purse was missing. Authorities later recovered the purse and a cell phone from O'Byrne's possession.
When questioned by police, the rookie defenseman answered that the items belonged to his girlfriend. He failed, however, to immediately identify said girlfriend.
When the cops decided to arrest the young player, several Canadiens made opposition. Despite warnings from authorities, forward Tom Kostopoulos was particularly persistent, although not violent.
Both players were charged a bail—$2,000 for O'Byrne and $500 for Kostopoulos—and then released from custody early Monday morning.
The incident certainly comes at a bad time, as the team suffered two straight regulation losses last week and faces a good deal of play-related issues requiring immediate attention.
It’s hard to believe that O’Byrne could be guilty of such a crime—the woman claims that a mere $20 was missing—and doubts to the validity of the charges have emerged.
Indeed, O'Byrne may not have Andrei Markov's salary, but still, he should be okay with $590,000 per year. Why would he need to steal $20?
Monday afternoon, fans already were reacting to the scandal, posting on blogs and other sites all over the Internet. There has even been some talk about trading both players, due to their lack of respect for the organization and their fans. Others mention that there may have been a misunderstanding between the authorities and players.
Back in Tampa.
The team held nonetheless their afternoon practice.
GM Bob Gainey arrived Monday morning, and immediately met with both players. Late in the afternoon, he met with the media and declared that the organization would not punish the two players. He added that the focus here should be hockey alone.
The two "bad boys" said a few words after the practice as well.
Both O'Byrne and Kostopoulos expressed their regrets, sorry to have put the team through this situation. Teammate Mike Komisarek assured the squad that they will get through this together.
However, no clarifications of the event itself were given.