The two season’s Derek Ryan spent with the Spokane Braves in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) are among his most memorable.
Many of his teammates from those teams are life long friends.
“A lot of great memories that I still cherish,” says Ryan, who is in his second season with the Calgary Flames. “The first couple years of my junior hockey career, I was trying to figure things out. I had a lot of great guys around me that I grew to love.”
The Spokane, Wash., native played in the KIJHL from 2002-04 and he remembers it being “pretty rough.”
His coach then, is the Braves coach now – Mike Bay – a very good friend as they talk daily. Bay fills him in on the team and league.
“Back then it was a tough league. Being one of the better players on my team, I was kind of targeted a lot,” says Ryan, who is five-foot-10, 185 pounds. “I think the KI helped to toughen me up a little bit.”
He adjusted to the rougher play, which helped with his transition to the WHL, which was also rough.
“The biggest part of my development was with my coach Mike Bay. He did a great job of developing me to an all-round player,” says Ryan. “(He) helped me get out there against bigger guys. To be willing to put my body on the line. Not be scared to use my skill and play my game.”
Bay, who first coached Ryan as a bantam, described him as a “tireless worker who controlled his emotions and stayed on task through every adversity that came his way.”
Ryan loved the KIJHL road trips on the old Braves bus.
“My favourite part was the time I got to spend with some long life friends that I had developed,” he says. “Learning to be a young junior hockey player.”
After three seasons with the Spokane Chiefs, Ryan went to the University of Alberta and played with the Golden Bears. While there, he earned a science degree in Human Physiology as his plan was to become a pharmacist. From there he spent four years in Europe, then got his shot in the NHL with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2015-16.
With so many options for players, Ryan has a message for them.
“Choosing the KIJHL is something that, your goal should be to play there and be the best player you can. To make your team as good as you can,” he says. “Your goal should be to move on. To try to move on to higher leagues. Some players have the ability to do that, some don’t. The biggest takeaway of a junior hockey player is to enjoy your time. It goes by fast.”
He stressed for players to enjoy it and make the most of it, especially if their careers are short.
“Just make sure you are a good teammate. Try not to be the bad guy on the team,” he says. “Make sure you are the guy that everyone enjoys being around. It will make the experience a lot more enjoyable.”
When it comes to his hockey path, Ryan says it is definitely different than most.
“Maybe even one of a kind. It’s something that’s really cool,” says Ryan, who never gets tired of talking about it. “I truly cherish it. I was in Austria, Sweden, the American Hockey League. My path forces me basically to appreciate where I am now. Things we get done for us, how we are treated. The things that get taken care of. It’s pretty awesome. I try to instill that on the young guys that maybe don’t have the same path that I did. My young family had great experiences traveling around. I’m a believer that everything happens for a reason. God puts us through things for a reason.”
Bay uses Ryan as an example of what can be accomplished with Braves players all the time.
Derek Ryan is in his second season with the Calgary Flames.
Calgary Flames photos
“Anything is possible if you do the work and believe in yourself, make the most of your opportunities,” he says. “You typically always get what you work for.”
It was under Bay that Ryan got his first experience playing a system, which he said became more important when he joined the Chiefs, and played at higher levels. Ryan learned to adapt to different systems.
Bay knew Ryan would go as far as he wanted in his second bantam season and when he practiced with the Braves. Bay says it was fun watching Ryan chase his dreams.
“I’m more proud of the man, husband, dad, friend he has become,” says Bay. “It has been amazing for all of us to watch his journey.”