Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Review: Tales of a First-Round Nothing (2014)

By Terry Ryan

The National Hockey League Entry Draft is a mysterious world. It's tough enough to forecast the future under any circumstances, but it gets tougher when NHL executives and scouts try to look at 18-year-olds and figure out if they will be good at 23.

The 1995 draft list is an example of that. Look at the first round now, and the name that jumps out is Jarome Iginla. He's played in Olympics, been in All-Star Games, etc. Other good players pop up, such as Wade Redden, Shane Doan, Jay McKee and Petr Sykora.

But there are others that didn't go on to many bigger and better things. One of those was Terry Ryan, who played a total of eight games in the National Hockey League after going eighth overall to the Montreal Canadiens. What happened? Ryan reviews his career in his book, "Tales of a First-Round Nothing." The title shows that he's willing to have fun with his career, while the book shows that he's willing to have fun with almost anything.

This isn't a case study of what happened, since it's a hockey memoir. So we have to put a few pieces together to get a look at the puzzle. Ryan was always a good player growing up with a tough streak - not huge at 6-foot-1, but not small and not shy about trying to throw his weight around. Suddenly, in 1994-95, he scored 50 goals and 60 assists in junior hockey. A rugged forward with a scoring touch? Sold. The Canadiens liked that idea, and grabbed him.

Ryan battled some injuries in his two remaining junior years, and then spent two seasons in the Canadiens' farm system. The scoring touch partially took off, based on the numbers he put up. By the fall of 1999, Ryan was frustrated and sat home from training camp while demanding a trade. The Canadiens effectively exiled him. Ryan bounced around several teams, with injuries becoming an increasingly big problem. He was out of pro hockey by 2003, although he still plays some senior hockey.

Ryan kept a journal of his hockey adventures, and he turned it into a book here. The stories certainly have the ring of authenticity, especially when Ryan is playing junior hockey. That's a pretty odd world, with kids sent out into the world at a very young age essentially on their own. As you could guess, adventures with beer, women, etc. followed, and Ryan was a willing participant.

Let's stop right here with one observation. If you like these sorts of stories, then there's no doubt that you'll like this book. Ryan isn't shy about talking about how he wound up in bars wearing only boots and underpants, or how his first intimate experience with a woman didn't exactly turn out the way he planned. And anyone will find stories about such figures as then-executive Mike Milbury and hockey writer Red Fisher rather stunning. This is a big part of the book.

Ryan fills in the rest with tales of teammates and opponents, some of whom are familiar to hockey fans. He obviously liked the hockey life, hanging out with the boys in the locker room, sticking up for them on the ice, and so on. Warning: everyone in this book seems to have a nickname, and it's tough to juggle them all while reading.

Ryan gets caught up quite often in describing fights by himself and others. It's easy to wonder what happened to that guy who scored 50 goals in junior. Did injuries rob him of his scoring touch? Did he feel the pressure of being a scorer, and thus felt more comfortable in a role as a grinder who frequently fought opponents? It's tough to know, and there's not much introspection here.

Finally, Ryan opts to move on with his life and get out of pro hockey. He actually switched to ball hockey, and soon was part of a world championship team at that particular sport. Ryan also has played senior hockey in his native Newfoundland, still enjoying locker room atmosphere years later.

"Tales of a First-Round Nothing" goes by relatively easily even if the stories are a little disorganized, and Ryan is good company for the trip. We all know characters like this, who don't mind being the center of attention and the life of the party. He certainly has his heart in the right place most of the time here.

It's not easy to have a key point in your life come at the age of 18, and it sounds like Terry Ryan wasn't quite ready for it. That's probably more common than we think in pro hockey. Reading his book will make most wish him well in his adventures from here on out.

Three stars

Learn more about this book.

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