Face-Off: Terry Ryan

There are always great characters around our wonderful game! Growing up in Newfoundland, the tough, but skilled players were always respected. If these tough, skilled heroes were charismatic, and could tell a good story – then they were household names! Probably one of the most well known Newfoundlanders who had all the attributes I just mentioned, is Terry Ryan.

Tough, skilled, and certainly the man can tell a good story! Murph was lucky enough to catch up with his friend, and fellow Newfoundlander recently – enjoy their chat here:

Murph On Ice: First off TR – thanks for joining me on the website!

Terry Ryan: No problem Murph – thanks for having me on.

MOI: Let’s dive right in! With the NHL Draft this past summer in Florida – let’s think back 20 years – tell us a bit about the day leading up to, and the big moment for you on your draft day TR.

Terry Ryan on his draft day 20 years ago. Photo Courtesy - betonhockey.com
Terry Ryan on his draft day 20 years ago. Photo Courtesy – betonhockey.com

TR: The whole draft year was surreal. For Daymond Langkow, Brian Boucher and I (three Tri-City Americans who all went in the first round that year), it was great that we all got to experience the ups, downs,and overall pressure of the whole thing together. It can be overhwelming. We also all gained momentum during the season and ended up being selected higher than most people would have thought if you’d asked them at the beginning of the 1994-95 campaign. There are some humorous stories about that time period in my book – not that I am trying to go out of my way to promote it here, but you asked, and I can’t think of a better way to answer and summarize the draft than by reading the junior excerpts from Tales of a First Round Nothing! I mean, you’re real young, right? High school. So if anyone that age says the draft wasn’t an incredible experience, they are either lying or spoiled. The NHL is where it’s at man!

MOI: When you heard it was the Habs – how exciting was that – an Original Six club, such history! What went through your mind as you put the Montreal jersey on that day?

TR: I expected to be taken at number nine to Boston – I loved Cam Neely as a kid and with the name Ryan in a place so rich in Irish heritage, you have to wonder if that wouldn’t have been a perfect fit – or number 11 to Dallas. Montreal were one of the only teams not to interview me. On the elevator on the way to my seat, Doug Robinson, Montreal’s head scout, called me Shane (Doan). As Montreal’s pick drew closer, the cameras all came closer to me and were staring me in the face for a few minutes before they said my name. I guess someone has some inside info or zoomed in on Montreal’s notes, Jacques Demers and Serge Savard had notes all over their table, and apparently liked myself and Radek Dvorak. Those few minutes are indescribable. Withheld elation. I am sure you could see my grin in the cheap seats. Montreal were my favourite team growing up, so I can’t really explain the feeling. So much happening at once; official NHL status, being a member of such a respected, historic franchise, knowing you’ll be at camp with legends in a cool city, finally joining my father and a handful of other Newfoundlanders as an NHL draft pick…and it also marked a historic moment in our province’s sports history – I became the highest drafted player to ever be born and bred in Newfoundland. I am still proud of that, and I know it’ll be tough to beat. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, love, support, and timing. Timing is so very important. Anything from booze to women to laziness can throw the train off the track for any young kid, and things like having the right billets are seldom spoken about. I know I was good but I am also very aware I was lucky – everything has to go right. McDavid is one thing, but for any normal kid – even the star prospects – if you get a major injury in a draft year, teams may not take you if for no other reason than lack of vision.

All this being said, I can’t wait until the moment some young Newfoundlander goes 7th! It’ll happen someday, hopefully I am alive to see it. John Slaney went 9th (1990) and Dan Cleary went 13th (1997) so it may not be as outlandish as some people think for a kid on the Rock to go 7th…or even 1st! Remember, Sid the Kid’s roots are in Nova Scotia which isn’t too far off.

MOI: Before the glitz and glamour of the draft day a few months back, for McDavid, Eichel and all of this year’s crop of stars, comes a lot of hard work. How has junior hockey changed from your days trying to get noticed by NHL scouts, and tell us about the preparation and sacrifices young player make to go in the first round?

Ryan is now an author - his no holds barred book is a must read!
Ryan is now an author – his ‘no holds barred’ book is a must read!

TR: I guess with the recent trend of hockey analytics, players are better conditioned than ever before. That’s not gonna change with each passing year. But we trained – we had the combine stuff too. We had to do the v02 Max test, the “Windgate”, all that, a half dozen times a year if we did it once. We had a strength and conditioning coach in Montreal (Stephane Dube) and he was pretty good. We were training 12 months a year to some degree. I think one major change is the “prospect” camps at the beginning of July. Jesus that’s early. I used to enjoy a break off the ice – I played soccer, baseball, and ball hockey at high levels and stuck to those during the summer – just to get a mental break. We all still trained off-ice, just not as much on. I remember one summer staying in Montreal all summer and not touching the ice from May – July. Now, it seems the serious players are constantly trying to get an edge and don’t take a break. In my mind, this reflects too much of a soldier-like mentality. It reminds me that hockey is a business, and each player is being cultivated to reach their maximum human potential in a robotic-like way. This is great for the actual physical specimen you are cultivating, but the process is mentally fatiguing to say the least. If I was coming up today I’d stay focused and train hard yes, but family, friends, and hobbies like travelling have to be important parts of life as well. Strong body, Strong mind.

That being said, physical training is just one part of sacrifice. Other examples? Leaving home at a young age, staying away from/saying no to peer pressure are important obviously. And most fans don’t stop and think about how old kids are in their draft years – only 18. They are graduating from high school. So, without naming specifics, the whole sexual frustration thing can be overwhelming. You are just starting to deal with feelings about the opposite sex, many guys return home to be with their girlfriends for example, and also trying to graduate from high school with good marks, while scouts travel from city to city judging you on how well you put a rubber disc into a cage six feet wide and four feet high.

MOI: Talk a little bit about the jump from junior star to rookie at an NHL camp? What kind of thoughts are with a young NHL’er those few days with the big club?

TR: Well, for me, it wasn’t only the fresh new glitz and glamour of any old NHL camp – it was Habs camp. So, take all those emotions that would come with attending, say, Tampa Bay camp, and multiply them by 100. I mean no disrespect to any other team because I know most organizations run a real professional ship, I just mean the whole media presentation and emotion surrounding Montreal Canadiens camp at the dawn of a new season is out-of-this-world. It was pressure-filled, yes, but there are way more good memories than bad ones as far as I recall. I loved the energy in the city in the fall too; still do.

As far as on-ice play goes, I never really got used to the whole “NHL” thing until my second camp. It was so overwhelming the first time around, all I did was dump the puck in, chase it, block shots, all that. Easy hockey. I was intimidated by their skill and reputation. The next year, I spent most of the summer in Montreal, to feel more comfortable in the environment. I was right – although my career never panned out as expected, I don’t recall being in awe of the situation any more than the next guy after year one. But, I mean, it is the NHL – there’s always gonna be a level of “I can’t believe I’m in the show” feelings as you throw on the uniform. Great club to be a part of.

MOI: The NHL career for you was a bit up and down – politics, coaches with agendas etc. But looking back – even though it was short lived – can you recall it with great pride and happiness, or is there some things you wish you could have changed?

TR: Well, it’s hard to look back objectively to be honest. I have a son and daughter now, and any changes I could make if I had a time machine would lead to a different scenario. Like my grandfather, Bill Norris, who fought in WWII aboard the famous HMS Bulldog, used to say, “Terry, be careful what you wish for”. He’d say it after I’d be up all night stressed about a provincial championship game or something , wishing victory or even injury to other team’s players! Yes, I remember wishing Jon Schwartz, of the Avalon Capitals hockey team, would hurt his foot so we’d have an easier ride…I was ten, cut me some slack (laughs). He’d say what goes around comes around, which I interpret today as karma. So, in my eyes it’s the same sort of thing. If I frame my life in terms of “failed hockey star” it can be like a negative blanket that’s hard to escape from, given how important hockey is in my life, as my son is up and coming, and my daughter may also play. In reality though, if you had told me when I was a kid that I’d play a game for the Habs, I’d have been thrilled. And the kid in me still looks back with a smirk when I think about that accomplishment. My grandfather would be proud. I am not religious really, but I am spiritual, and I believe there’s a consciousness that continues after we pass on, and I truly believe he is aware of all of this.

Ryan enjoyed his time playing Senior Hockey in Newfoundland after his NHL days. Photo Courtesy - the telegram.com
Ryan enjoys his time playing Senior Hockey in Newfoundland after his NHL days. Photo Courtesy – the telegram.com

So, in a nutshell, I look back with pride. The only thing that sometimes eats me up a little is when people forget how good a player I was because of the low amount of NHL games. Look, I am not being cocky – I have no reason to given my position. But I was a real good player growing up and it was no fluke I went where I did in the draft. At 19, when I got my first concussion (missed almost a year with post concussion syndrome), injuries started. I played hard and dangerously, and it slowed me down. My “career ender” was when I was 23 – a high ankle sprain – but I still play senior hockey at AAA level because I love the game. Less games, less wear and tear, and I get by. I can’t turn one way very well and I can’t hit from my left side. Anyone who saw me play the way I can at a high level, saw me play two decades ago.

MOI: Toughest guy you ever dropped the gloves with and why?

TR: Hmmm – technically I dropped ’em with Probert, and he’s the one people tend to use to measure toughness, at least in my era. We didn’t get free and throw ’em though so I’d have to say Tie Domi – given the setting. I fought him three times, in back to back to back years, all in Maple Leaf Gardens (95,’96,’97) and all in his prime. He had a face like a furnace and fantastic centre-of-gravity because of that short, bullish stature. He is also a lefty, and was one of the first fighters to grab the jersey on the non-traditional side – he’d reach across his body – and he’d pull you into the punch as he was throwing, making the blow that much harder. He had a great chat with me in the box too (laughs).

MOI: Best player you’ve ever played against in your career, and the best player you’ve ever had as a team-mate?

TR: Well, I played one game against Mario – he had four goals – and one against Gretz – he scored three. I hate to compare greatness, and hate comparing these two beauties. Wayne and Mario are still the most graceful athletes I’ve seen playing such a ferociously physical game. It’s beautiful to watch those old tapes. They were so much better than everyone else. Yes, goalies weren’t as good – or at least big but The Great One and the Magnificent One were way ahead of their peers stats-wise. It’s all relative. I like to use Babe Ruth as a comparison. One year, when he hit a whopping 60 home-runs, the dude who came second hit 14. So, to me, Ruth’s 60 dingers are way more important than a juiced up Barry Bond’s 73, given the timing of it all. It’d be like someone like Crosby had 120 points this past year – 30+ ahead of everyone else. But as good as Crosby is, he’s not rattling off scoring titles every year. For like 15 years it seemed like it was Gretzky or Lemieux (if Mario was healthy).

As a team-mate? Well I loved playing with Daymond Langkow and we absolutely scorched the WHL as 17 year olds in 1995. He had 140 points – 67 goals. He was underrated in the NHL too – lots of great seasons of 60+ pts. But overall I guess I’d have to say Mark Recchi maybe, given his place in the hockey world. His talent, longevity, and leadership abilities produced multiple Stanley Cups and helped many young players grow into stars.

MOI: Any players not named McDavid or Eichel from this years draft just passed, that you think will be big names in the NHL in the future and why?

TR: Oh yes, many of ’em. If I had to pick one I guess I’d say Lawson Crause. He plays like me so maybe I’m biased, but I do think he’ll blossom into a great NHL’er. He’s very determined and a very fierce competitor.

Also, I think Nathan Noel, who is from Newfoundland, will sign with an NHL team after a great (laughs).

Oh – I could go on and on but Dylan Strome is way better than people think he is…all the attention has gone to the other guys surrounding him in the draft – even Mitch Marner because he went to Toronto. But man every time I watch Strome he does something that impresses me.

MOI: You’ve had an interesting path after hockey getting your degree, working in television production, and of course becoming an author. Tell us about some of your favourite moments on Republic of Doyle, and how fans overseas and back home can get your book if they want a great hockey read?!

TR: Oh, God – there are so many moments that were memorable on that show. My pal Allan Hawco plays the lead character, Jake Doyle, and hooked me up with an opportunity to work on ROD (Republic Of Doyle) a few years ago. I guess my favourite part of the process was stunt acting. I got to work on-screen on a half dozen occasions and it was exhilarating to put it mildly. If you’d like my book, shoot me a message on twitter – it’s @terryryan20 – or check on-line at ECW publishing. If you’re in North America it may be at your local Chapters store.

Who knows, maybe I’ll be across the pond at an arena near you soon! If so I’ll have books and stories – come have a chat!

MOI: Well I know you’d love – Ireland! Hopefully see you there someday – cheers for the chat!

TR: Cheers Murph – always good to talk hockey with you. Take care bud.

You can follow Murph on twitter: @MurphOnIce

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