For the vast majority of kids growing up in America’s deep south, Canada’s winter pastime falls far down the list of desired athletic pursuits.
West Kelowna Warriors’ defenseman Michael Ryan is one of the exceptions.
Since taking to the ice for the first time as an eight-year-old in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, Ryan has, admittedly, been hooked.
“I started off playing roller hockey, then a buddy’s dad of mine got us out on the ice and I took to it right away…I fell in love with it, you could say,” said Ryan, 19. “From there it took off for me, and each year it’s been getting better and better.”
Even with just four rinks in his entire home state and minimal hockey resources available, Ryan remained true to his passion for the game well into his teens.
When his family moved from Georgia to hockey-rich Massachusetts two summers ago, it was just the prescription Ryan needed to take his game to the next level.
Last season, he played at Tabor Academy in his hometown of Marion, Mass. Then, last summer, Ryan accepted an offer from Warriors’ head coach and GM Rylan Ferster to join the B.C. Hockey League club in West Kelowna.
Helping ease Ryan’s transition to his new environment has been Warriors teammates Quin Foreman, Connor Sodergen and Nick Rutigliano, all of whom hail from Massachusetts.
And so far, from both the cultural and hockey standpoints, it’s been a thumbs-up experience for Ryan.
“It’s been a really good fit for me,” he said of his move to B.C. “I love it here and I can honestly say Kelowna is one of the prettiest places I’ve been in my life. The team has been really welcoming, too.”
An offensively-gifted defenseman, Ryan has impressed the Warriors’ coaching staff with a wide range of skills. And once the 5-foot-9, 175-pound blue liner refines his defensive game, Ferster said he will be much closer to a complete player.
“He’s been really good for us, obviously he has a real offensive upside,” Ferster said of Ryan, who has six goals and 11 points in 19 games this season. “He skates well, sees the ice well and has really come leaps and bounds since he arrived. Now he’s got to learn the defensive side of his position more and that will help him round out his game.”
Ferster’s assessment clearly isn’t lost on Ryan.
“I’m a smaller guy who likes to get up into the rush, the offense seems to come more naturally to me,” Ryan said. “We have good D coaches and they’re working with me to help me improve my defensive game.
“I don’t want to be a liability in the defensive zone, so I’m trying to work hard at that.”
Warriors home for 2…
The Warriors (15-16-1-0) will close out their pre-Christmas schedule this weekend with a pair of games at Royal LePage Place. On Friday, the Powell River Kings will be here for their lone visit of the season. On Saturday, the Nanaimo Clippers will provide the opposition. Face off both nights is 7 p.m.
Teddy Bear Toss…
Friday night’s game at LePage will feature the BCHL club’s annual Teddy Bear Toss. Fans are encouraged to bring new or gently-used stuffed animals to throw on the ice after the Warriors first goal is scored.
The stuffies will be donated to the Kelowna Santas, who will distribute the bears throughout the communities of West Kelowna and Kelowna for the less fortunate.