Edmonton’s Game 7 victory over the Los Angeles Kings last Saturday only advanced the Oilers to the second round of the NHL playoffs, but it was still special for Derek Ryan.
“It was an incredibly memorable day,” the 35-year-old center/right wing told the Deseret News.
Ryan said the city practically celebrated like the Oilers had won the Stanley Cup.
“The scene outside of the arena was something I had never seen before,” Ryan said. “Cars were stopped and honking everywhere, there were people all over the place and you could just tell that something major had happened. It was definitely a cool experience for me and my family.”
Tim Ryan, Derek’s father, was also there to share in the meaningful moment.
“It was awesome to have him in town to experience it all too,” the hockey player said of his father.
Ryan, likely the only Latter-day Saint currently playing the NHL, will now focus his attention on the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs as the Oilers face off with his old team, the Calgary Flames, with Game 1 tonight at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.
- 1983 — Second round, Edmonton won 4-1.
- 1984 — Second round, Edmonton won 4-3.
- 1986 — Second round, Calgary won 4-3.
- 1988 — First round, Edmonton won 4-0.
- 1991 — Division semifinal, Edmonton won 4-3.
Earlier this season, the two teams played four times, each winning two games on their home ice.
“It will be a heated battle for sure,” Ryan said. “I’m trying to approach it as I would if we were playing any other team, so I’m not distracted by the fact that it’s my old team. But there are tons of familiar faces on their team, so it will be an extra emotional series I’m sure.”
Ryan spoke with the Deseret News in advance of tonight’s Edmonton-Calgary game about thrill of playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs, his spiritual pregame routine, the concept of fighting in hockey, injuries during his career and other topics.
Deseret News: What is it like to be in a NHL locker room and stadium during the Stanley Cup playoffs? How would you describe the intensity, pressure and exhilarating atmosphere of the game?
Derek Ryan: It’s something that most people will never understand until they experience it for themselves. But the roar of the crowd and the emotions in an arena are something that most athletes love and crave. It can be an out-of-body experience of sorts.
But for me, I’m usually able to block most of that out once the game starts. That way I can focus on what’s happening on the ice and what I need to be doing. I think most athletes are like that.
DN: Do you have a routine that has helped you prepare for games? Some athletes say prayers, listen to music or something inspirational — what works for you?
DR: Yes, I do. In the mornings, I usually listen to a podcast or two that is an aid to the “Come, Follow Me” outline for the week. I have a 30-minute drive to the arena from our house in Edmonton, so it’s a great time for me to turn on a podcast. I also try to listen to a general conference talk at some point in the morning too, and it is a talk that speaks to the topics of the “Come, Follow Me” block as well.
On my way to the game, I tend to listen to a hymn or two. My favorite is usually “I Stand All Amazed.” I love the peace and love that I feel when I listen to that song.
Before the game starts, I’ll always find a place to be by myself and have a prayer. I do this before I go and get my hockey equipment on. I find it’s a great way to put my faith and trust in the Lord. I’m not sure if he cares about the results of hockey games, but I like to pray for his guidance to stay on the path that he has set me on. As I’ve said before, there’s no doubt in my mind that he has put me where I am now for a reason.
DN: Sometimes in the middle of a hockey game, players drop their gloves and a fight breaks out. The officials let the brawl go for a minute before breaking it up and sending the players to the penalty box. For those who aren’t familiar with this, could you explain the concept of fighting in hockey?
DR: I don’t want to spend too much time on this, but it obviously is part of the game of hockey. In modern hockey, I would say that most fights happen in defense of something that has happened in the game, usually a dirty hit or unfair play by the other team. That being said, there are times when emotions run high and a spontaneous fight can break out, and players can use that to swing momentum in their team’s favor. Hockey is just like any other sport in that if you let your emotions run too high, your performance will suffer. It’s all about keeping cool under pressure and maintaining a level head.
DN: When was your last fight?
DR: I’ve never been in a fight in the NHL, so my last fight dates back to my junior hockey days playing in the Western Hockey League. I’m not much of a fighter, so it wasn’t very memorable and I don’t think many punches were thrown.
DN: What injuries have you suffered in your career?
DR: I’ve had a few concussions, broken a finger and had a skate knock out one of my front teeth. I guess the skate to the tooth was probably the worst. I finished the game, but I had to have some major dental work done in the following days/weeks/months.
DN: Do you have a calling in your Latter-day Saint congregation?
DR: We usually keep our records in our home ward in Spokane. There, I’m a teachers quorum specialist but I spend time with the priests and deacons as well. I’ve found that my story of reaching the NHL alongside with my conversion story has had a positive impact on many of the youths that I’ve been around. In my mind, it’s part of the reason Heavenly Father has guided me to where I am now.
When I lived in Calgary, I served as the ward temple and family history leader. I loved that calling as well.