Bad habits put Habs prospect on ice
JOURNEYMAN pro hockey player Terry Ryan details the dream of every Canadian kid playing hockey in his autobiographical Tales of a First-Round Nothing: My Life as an NHL Footnote. Ryan was a first-round draft pick — chosen 8th overall, three positions ahead of Jarome Iginla — in the 1995 draft, but went on to play justju eight unremarkable NHL games (no goals, no assists) for the storied Montreal Canadiens.d He kept a journal through his playing days on the advice of his father; those recollectionsti formed the basis of his writingw debut. For a time, Ryan was a legitimatel player — he could score, he could bang and he had a mean streak. He moved from Newfoundland to the West Coast as a teenager, where he became a star prospect as a junior with the WHL’s Tri-City Americans. He scored 50 goals in his draft year, earning the first-round NHL pick. He even fought Tie Domi in an exhibition game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. But shortly after, the dream went sideways. Ryan never delivered in Montreal, and bounced around playing minor pro for a decade. He suited up with the Fredericton Canadiens, the Hershey Bears and the St. John’s Maple Leafs in the AHL, had a cup of coffee with the Long Beach Ice Dogs and Utah Grizzlies in the IHL, and proceeded down the slippery slope. He retired at age 30 owing to recurring concussions and a torn-up ankle that refused to heal. This volume is definitely not recommended for younger readers. It’s delivered in hockey’s salty dressing-room language, with graphic examples of the raw side of life for both a teenage player living away from home and a young pro whose life is heading in the wrong direction. Drinking to excess, sexual initiations and other seamy revelations feature as prominently as conditioning, practising and winning games. The language and the descriptions of the antics seem inspired by the movie Slapshot. The hockey jargon — a stick is a “twig,” a high shot into the net going “upstairs where Daddy keeps the porn mags,” a beer is a “wobbly-pop” — and the focus on boozing and womanizing seems cartoonish by pro hockey’s standards today, where players are judged as much on character, maturity and conforming to a strict code of behaviour as they are by playing ability. Ryan once drank 24 beers in eight hours on a bet. He apparently knocked his front teeth out with a sledgehammer at one point to qualify for dental care, and once met one of his heroes, blues rocker George Thorogood, in a bar (where else) and shared a shot with him. So in many respects he has lived a Slapshot- like life. After two seasons in the Canadiens’ farm system, Ryan punched his own ticket to obscurity when he decided not to show up for training camp. No other NHL team gave him a look. Surprisingly, Ryan doesn’t acknowledge the link between his partyhearty lifestyle and the negative direction of his hockey dreams. While disappointed by his inability to achieve and sustain an NHL career, he chooses to accentuate the positives here — exciting times, bonding with teammates and making memories for life. One of the only figures that Ryan has negative words for is current Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien, who was the bench boss when Ryan played for the Fredericton Canadiens. Therrien, a first-year pro coach at the time, comes across as a bully who didn’t know how to handle players, chain-smoked cigarettes at team meals and on the team bus, and punished Ryan for objecting. Tales of a First Round Nothing isn’t a standard autobiography — more a collection of memories and anecdotes framed by Ryan’s Newfie knack for storytelling. It’s candid, self-deprecating and affectingly personal in its description of the behindthe-scenes camaraderie of the professional hockey environment. It’s perfect for hockey fanatics who’d like a look at our national obsession from a different perspective on the odd night there’s no Stanley Cup game on the tube. Jim Millican was CEO of the Manitoba Moose from 1996 to ’98, and a member of the executive team through the
planning and construction of the MTS Centre.
Tales of a First-Round Nothing: My Life as an NHL