Bad habits put Habs prospect on ice

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Jim Mil­li­can

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

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