Pictou Advocate sports

Ryan appointment should be popular

Sports

There are some things that happen in the sports world that allow media people like me to make immediate assumptions.

Without speaking to ticket sellers or event organizers, I’m confident Pictou County hockey fans have been anxiously awaiting the 2020 IIHF women’s world championship being held in Truro and Halifax later this season. It’s one of those attractive sports happenings that doesn’t come this close to home very often.

And now, for Pictonians, it’s an even larger must-see spectacle.

The appointment of Troy Ryan as head coach of Team Canada is surely an added reason to drive over Mount Thom to watch the action.

Ryan, who was associate coach for the Canadian women’s squad at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, has been given the top assignment in what is becoming quite a career in the sport.

Fans in this part of the province don’t really need to be told about the achievements of the 48-year-old Spryfield native. Yet it’s such a fascinating climb up hockey’s ladder that it shouldn’t be overlooked as the Canadian women prepare for their week-and-a-half attempt to replace the United States as champions.

Ryan, in case you’ve been on the other side of the world for the past two decades, was head coach of the Pictou County Crushers during their first five years in New Glasgow. Among a number of achievements, he guided the club to the 2008 Fred Page Cup title when it was hosted at John Brother MacDonald Stadium.

The old arena may be history, but that prestigious tournament 12 years ago will be remembered for a long time by the folks who took in the activities.

I’ll be very surprised if followers of women’s hockey in Nova Scotia aren’t delighted with last week’s appointment.

Ryan — I’m sure he agrees — has very big shoes to fill.

He replaces Perry Pearn, who previously held coaching positions with the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets, Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks. He obviously had to keep his luggage packed much of the time.

But now it’s Troy Ryan’s time — and that story truly excites me.

He was very popular in his position with the 2018 Olympic team that, of course, included Stellarton’s Blayre Turnbull on its roster.

This new challenge is not going to be a cake walk for Ryan — and we can be sure he knows it.

But the 47-year-old is no stranger to major challenges. He’s had them since childhood, growing up in the 1960s and ’70s in one of Halifax’s toughest neighbourhoods.

I’ve written about his early years on other occasions. How he didn’t have a father driving him to early morning hockey practices or taking him on weekend road trips. He didn’t have enough money to wear fancy skates or buy new equipment like his teammates. He told me he couldn’t even afford to attend Nova Scotia Voyageurs pro games at the nearby Halifax Forum like his young friends.

But he was blessed, nonetheless. He had a loving mother who worked hard to put food on the table and clothes on his back, a mother who supported his journey through the minor hockey days, even if it meant getting some assistance from local businesses.

For sure, Troy was appreciative of what his mom did — and he responded by becoming a very good hockey player.

He was a product of the old Chebucto Minor Hockey Association, then played with the AAA midget program in Sackville, and the Halifax McDonalds midgets. He later played for the University of New Brunswick and Saint Mary’s University.

Ryan loved hockey enough to grab coaching opportunities when they came along, including a stint with Team Canada East in the world under-17 championships. He was also with the province’s women’s team at the Canada Games.

He did a great job with the Crushers.

It was following the 2003-04 season that the Halifax Team Pepsi franchise in the Maritime Junior Hockey League moved to New Glasgow.

With Ryan at the helm, the team improved quickly. In its final Halifax season, they won only 18 times in 52 appearances. Two years later, the Crushers posted an impressive 31-19-0-6 record.

When the organization hosted the Fred Page Cup in its fourth year, few observers gave the Crushers much of a chance at the big prize. But they surprised even their most vocal opponents, beating the defending champion Pembroke Lumber Kings in the championship final.

After five years in the county, Ryan moved on. He served as head coach of the Campbellton Tigers in the Maritime circuit.

His hockey experiences haven’t been limited to bench duties. He’s the female coach mentor with Canadian Sport Centre Atlantic.

The promotion of Troy Ryan to the lead coaching position with the Canadian women comes at an ideal time – just as fans from coast to coast are still talking about the terrific job Canada did at the recent world junior championships in the Czech Republic.

The new junior champions have been crowned, their careers still very much ahead of them. But for sure, they earned our admiration and respect.

It’s their time.

It gave us another opportunity to listen to O Canada at the closing ceremonies, to watch our guys singing aloud while trying to hold back their tears of joy. That’s how important international competitions are for the players.

And — lest I forget — it was a bonus to hear “New Glasgow, Nova Scotia” being mentioned in the post-game presentations, thanks to the contributions made by Canadian team therapist Kyle Sutton.

Yes, there are so many reasons why it’s fun being a hockey fan in this great country of ours.

Now, with a world women’s championship coming to Nova Scotia in just two and a half months, Pictonians have a golden opportunity to see the best in person, not very far away.

With Troy Ryan in place, there’s one more reason to go there.