Troy Ryan has represented his country on the national and international stage, coaching teams in the Canada Games and World Under-17 Hockey Championships.
But Ryan, who was hired to lead the men’s hockey program at St. Thomas University in April, cut his teeth as a head coach and general manager with three different teams in the Maritime Junior A ranks, a league that’s often a stepping stone to major junior hockey.
Two of Ryan’s former players in that league, both of whom have earned regular jobs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, say the new Tommie is a hard coach with the ability to get results.
Both believe he has what it takes to revitalize the Tommies after several seasons at the bottom of the standings.
Stephen Woodworth, an 18-year-old shutdown defenseman with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, played for Ryan with the Halifax Lions in 2009-10 and remembers him as a demanding coach.
“All the guys had a lot of respect for him. They wanted to work for him,” he said.
Ryan took over the Lions after the 2008-09 season, when the team finished with a dismal 10-39-2 record.
By the end of his first season behind the bench, the team had more than doubled its win total.
Woodworth chalks up Ryan’s ability to motivate an underperforming team to the coach’s demeanour.
“He always held you accountable and it didn’t really matter what age you were…if you were a 20-year-old or a 16-year-old, you were held accountable by him,” Woodworth said.
“He always made sure that each and every guy was giving the best no matter what the situation was.”
Ian Saab, a 19-year-old defenseman who played on that same Lions team as Woodworth, classifies Ryan as a hard-nosed coach who knows a lot about hockey.
During the 2009-10 season, Saab was playing major junior and broke his hand. Once it healed, he was looking for a Junior A team to give him a chance to play.
Having played for the Lions the season before, Ryan gave Saab a shot to suit up for his old team and taught him more about his defensive game along the way.
“He was really energetic. He tried to get us all ready for the game and stuff and pushed us to our limit pretty much,” Saab said.
When Woodworth started with the Lions, he was 16 and adjusting to the speed and skill of Junior A hockey.
“I was playing against guys who were a lot bigger and a lot stronger and far more skilled than they were back in midget,” he said.
Now, Woodworth plays against the top lines in the QMJHL and credits Ryan with much of his success, saying the Tommies coach taught him how to enjoy the game.
“I think Troy was part of the reason I am where I am,” he said. “He’s been a big impact on my hockey career and I know he’s been a big impact on many other guys in the Atlantic provinces.”
Woodworth trained in Fredericton this past summer and kept in frequent contact with his old coach as he prepared to take over the Tommies.
He believes Ryan has what it takes to turn the STU team into winners.
“He’s the perfect guy for the job. He knows how to manage a hockey club and he’s a motivator,” Woodworth said. “Halifax wasn’t doing very good until he came there. He certainly changed that organization around for the best.
“I have no doubt that he’ll definitely be very good for that program and he’ll turn things around there for sure.”