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Troy Ryan: 'We're here to win gold'

Monday, February 12th, 2018

GLENN MACDONALD THE CHRONICLE HERALD 
Published February 9, 2018 - 8:31pm 

Canadian assistant coach has travelled a long road from Spryfield to Pyeongchang

Gold or bust.

Spryfield’s Troy Ryan, a Canadian Olympic women’s hockey assistant coach, is cognisant of the lofty expectations on the national team.

“Hockey Canada is not in the business of silver and bronze medals,” the 46-year-old Ryan said in a recent interview. “They expect and want you to win gold medals. Everything they do here is to surround you with the right professionals to give you that opportunity to win gold. Ultimately, it’s the combination of the staff and mostly the players to execute the plan. We’re here to win gold.

“As for the pressure, you have to feel it. If they don’t feel it, they’re probably lying to you. But that’s why we do it. If there’s no pressure, we’d be wasting our time. It’s also what makes it fun.”

It’s over 10,000 kilometres to Pyeongchang and takes about a day to fly from Halifax. But it took a lifetime of hockey for Ryan to realize his Olympic dream.

Ryan was a hard–nosed, gritty forward nicknamed the Rat, a favourite player of head coach Jim Bottomley in the junior A ranks in the early 1990s. He went on to play university hockey with the Saint Mary’s Huskies and UNB Varsity Reds.

He spent over a decade coaching at both the junior A and university level, including as a head coach of the now-defunct St. Thomas Tommies men’s program. He last coached the Campbellton Tigers of the Maritime Hockey League before joining Hockey Canada.

“I think I’m a much better coach than I ever was a player; I knew there could be some success there at the coaching level,” said Ryan, who was the Atlantic Canada female coach mentor with Canadian Sport Centre Atlantic (CSCA) before joining bench boss Laura Schuler’s staff with the national women’s program last spring.

“I always try to remain current and I have a good mind for the game of hockey so I figured I would have some success. But I’d be lying if I thought that this would be a highlight of my career. I never thought (the Olympics) would happen. But I never look down at my career.

“A big chunk of my career was in junior A and to be honest that has prepared me as much as anything. The centralization process is about building a program, building a team from the ground up. You have to do more than the everyday things that coaches do: the off-ice component, the community involvement, sponsorship. Those are things I’ve gained experience from working the junior leagues.”

Ryan said his priorities as assistant coach will be working on the power play and with the Team Canada forwards.

Those forwards include the only Nova Scotians on the player roster: Halifax’s Jillian Saulnier and Blayre Turnbull of Stellarton.

They are players, and families, he has known for some time. Saulnier’s brother Brennan and Turnbull’s brother Brent each played in the Maritime Hockey League at the same time Ryan was coaching in the junior A circuit.

 

“As a coach, you generally find your enjoyment in how you development a player and seeing them grow as a player and a person,” Ryan said. “It’s so much enjoyable knowing that Jill and Blayre are here with us. I’ve known them for a long time.

“They both have great relationships with their brothers, whose paths I have crossed over the years. It’s cool to know that you have a small part in helping them achieve their dreams. That makes it even more special. They’re great ambassadors for our region.”

Women’s hockey at the 2018 Olympics begins Saturday with Canada’s first game scheduled for Sunday (9 a.m. AT) against the Olympic Athletes from Russia.

He said the players — and the coaches, for that matter — have been antsy for the Games to begin since the roster was unveiled on Dec. 22.

“You go through some peaks and valleys at this point of the process,” Ryan said. “Once the team is made, obviously that becomes such a high and then everyone gets to go home for Christmas and celebrate it with their families.

“Right now, the team is just excited about getting this thing going. It’s not necessarily a low period, it’s more of a period of anticipation. But you’re so busy with the planning and the everyday stuff that I don’t think it ever really hits you until you get there.”

Following the gold medal game on Feb. 21, which many anticipate will be Canada versus the United States, Ryan will remain with the team in Calgary for a few months before he returns home to Halifax.

After that, he’ll likely go back to his position with CSCA.

“I’ll take a break from the national program and do more regional and provincial duties,” Ryan said. “The whole process can be taxing.

“But right now I’m just staying in the moment. This (Olympics) takes priority right now. I’ve had a number of jobs and a number of different positions and one thing I’ve never done is actively looked for other jobs. If you do pretty good at your job, the opportunities will follow.”