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HACKETT: Fairy tale ending for Terry Ryan


The sports world loves a good redemption story, and over the weekend, Terry Ryan provided the script for one of the more unique ones you’ll ever hear.

The former Red Deer Rebel made a return to pro hockey on his 47th birthday to play for his hometown Newfoundland Growlers in the ECHL (a minor pro league two tiers below the NHL).

Ryan, who represented the hopes and dreams of many on the Rock when he was drafted eighth overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1995 NHL Draft, brought a smile to those who never quite let go of the dream that they could one day make it.

The story is straight out of a movie.

Ryan said he was sitting at a bar Saturday night, having a few pints celebrating his birthday. He gets a call from the Growlers, who were short players for a Sunday afternoon game because of an illness that hit the team hard. He hadn’t played pro hockey since 2002-2003, but plays regularly in Newfoundland and on Team Canada’s maters ball hockey team. Not your average beer leaguer, to say the least.

“I was joking with the guys. You can get sent down for two weeks, but two decades is a little much,” he joked post-game.

He played a shift early in the game, then not until later in the third period and of course, the old-school player in him came out after he saw a teammate get hit hard. Ryan got in a fight, saying later it wasn’t his intention when he got the call to play, but it was just something he couldn’t turn off.

The script wasn’t exactly made-for-hollywood because the Growlers lost. But this story isn’t about wins or losses.

The crowd chanted Ryan’s name throughout the game. People showed up to see him skate one more time. He was Newfoundland’s prodigal son, and even if he threw it all away during some dark times, they showed they still loved him. He wasn’t sure if they would — if the fans might be thinking what he was doing was a publicity stunt, but for his role, he said he wouldn’t have done it if it was.

It was a fairy tale ending. It was a story about a guy getting a chance to leave the game on his terms and show off the joy that hockey can bring to people if you let it.

I think so many people, especially in Canada resonated with his story. So many kids, now adults in Canada, dreamt of playing in the NHL — they dreamt of hoisting the Stanley Cup after a Game 7 win. Terry Ryan got a taste of that dream, playing eight games in the NHL before he let it all slip away. After all those years, Ryan getting back into pro hockey struck a chord with so many people who never even came close to that dream.

Ryan may not have gotten a second chance in the NHL, but he got to play pro hockey in front of his 13-year-old daughter, something he said he’d dreamt about for a long time.

In this country, hockey is more than just a sport — it’s deeply intertwined with our identity.

Maybe that’s why a couple shifts on Sunday in Newfoundland by a 47-year-old seemed to touch so many people.

“To hear that ovation, I never thought I would hear that again in my life. You just never know,” he said.

You just never know.

Byron Hackett

About the Author: Byron Hackett

I have been apart of the Red Deer Advocate Black Press Media team since 2017, starting as a sports reporter.
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