As Ryan Swier raised the RBC Cup above his head, his thoughts were at home with his family.
The Lacombe native went through a season most hockey players can only dream about, however, with his father Roger’s health worsening — he’s battling Multiple Sclerosis — it was difficult for him to be more than 1,200 kilometres away in Portage la Prairie.
“Family is a huge thing and not many things beat out hockey in my life and in my decisions but family is one of them,” said Swier. “Moving forward I want to be close to home and be with them.”
Swier played all of his minor hockey in Central Alberta, including the 2010-11 season with the Red Deer Bantam AAA Rebels Black and the next year with the Red Deer Northstars 15-year-old midget team.
This season started out ominously enough for the five-foot-11, 180-pound winger. He was entering his second year in the Alberta Junior Hockey League with the Lloydminster Bobcats but one game in was informed he was going to be traded. He was presented with several options, but chose the opportunity to play for a national championship.
On Sept. 9 he was dealt to the Portage Terriers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League for future considerations.
“With Portage hosting the RBC, I couldn’t say no to it and getting lots of exposure, and they obviously were going to have a good team,” said Swier. “It was just a numbers game, and they knew I would have potential to go other places to and be an impact player on other teams.”
Swier spent most of the season on Portage’s third line with Jaryd Wiebe and Taylor Friesen. In 53 games with the Terriers he scored 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) and added 62 penalty minutes.
Portage finished with a 53-3-4 record, the best in the entire Canadian Junior Hockey League. In the MJHL playoffs he added five points (2-3-5) in 11 games as the Terriers won the league title in the minimum 12 games, including a 4-0 sweep of the Steinbach Pistons in the final.
The championship punched their ticket to the Western Canada Cup in Fort McMurray. For the first time all season they saw just how much they were going to have to raise their level of play for the RBC Cup, and they lost their opening game 3-1 to the host Oil Barons — their first lost since a 2-1 defeat to the Pistons on Feb. 20, a streak of 15 games.
They rallied to finish second at the Western Canada Cup, losing to the Penticton Vees in the final and beating the Melfort Mustangs in the play-in game to earn their way to the RBC Cup.
“Out west there’s some really good teams from the AJHL and BCHL and it was a huge waking up experience for myself and the team to see the competition out there and to see what it would be like at nationals,” said Swier.
At the RBC Cup, Portage rolled through the round robin tied with the best mark at 3-1-0 with the Vees to land in one of two semifinals. They beat the Melfort Mustangs 6-1 to advance to the championship game and then whipped the Carleton Place Canadians 5-2 to win the national junior A hockey championship on home ice. It was the first time since the Weyburn Red Wings in 2005 that the host team won the RBC Cup.
“It was amazing, for everyone of our players it was a life long goal that we’ve had and hard work has finally paid off, your weak with excitement and all sorts of emotions running through your body,” said Swier.
However, Swier took almost more pride in the work he did off the ice as he did in scoring goals. At the team’s year end awards banquet he was named Outstanding team player and given the team’s community spirit award. He spent a lot of time this year involved in the Terriers’ in-school reading program and working with kids in the community.
He understands the impact that as an athlete he can have on younger people.
“Hockey is a big sport, but it’s more about growing into a person and adding life experience,” said Swier. “I’m going to use a lot of situations where I’ve learned in hockey and trade it in during my daily life. It’s really relieving that all the hard work is paying off not just in hockey but in life as well.”
Swier has two years of junior eligibility left but is unsure of where he will be playing next year. He is still trying to earn an NCAA scholarship, adding he has made contact with a few schools. He was sent to the OCN Blizzard of the MJHL after the Terriers finished their RBC Cup run to complete a trade deadline move on Jan. 9 to acquire Grant Valiquette.
But he says he wants to be closer to home and for good reason.
“My dad’s health is declining pretty fast, so I am weighing out my options right now and then we’ll decide from there,” said Swier.
Until he reports he will be training and getting ready for the season while also catching up with friends and family after a long season.
“During the season I don’t get to see my friends and family much and I want to really make a lasting relationship with them and prepare for next season as well.”