Flames’ Derek Ryan Discusses Geoff Ward, Seattle Hockey and Zombies

Obviously, I am a big hockey fan. But I try my very best not to be an annoying hockey fan.

Which is why when I met Derek Ryan for the first time, I tried not to talk about hockey. I told myself, surely he doesn’t want to talk about the Calgary Flames all the time. Surely it’s annoying when people only see the hockey player and are not interested in talking about anything else.

Despite the fact that I have been writing about the Flames for a while now, I waited more than a full year before asking him to do an interview. My wife was a bit more courageous, asking him to sign my jersey as a birthday surprise to me not long after he moved here. Which he did. That’s how I came to own a Robyn Regehr jersey with a Ryan signature.

When I finally did ask for an interview, he was very gracious about it. He made time to talk at his house on one of his off nights during that long five-day break in the schedule. His corgi, Bronx, sat under my chair while we chatted.

Flames centre Derek Ryan’s pet corgi, Bronx. (Picture taken by Jeremy Stanford)

Ryan says Bronx got his name because of his stout figure and feisty personality, just like the New York City borough. Plus, his fur pattern makes him look like he’s wearing hipster glasses.

I was surprised at how easy Ryan was to talk to. Obviously he’s used to doing interviews just like all players are, so I knew it would be easy for him. But I didn’t know it would be this easy for me. He is approachable and laid back. I can attest that he’s one of the good guys.

The Interview

Me: It’s been about a week now — What are your first impressions of Geoff Ward as a head coach?

Derek: Ward-o (read: Geoff Ward), he’s a good guy. He’s a team guy, obviously. I think it’s a little different between guys that have played and guys that haven’t played, and since he has played I think he understands the players’ perspective a little bit more. I mean, he calls in the leadership group to make decisions on logistical things, whether we want to stay overnight after a game, or we want to do certain things in the schedule differently for guys that have a family, whatever it is. He just understands, as a player, how our lives are and how difficult it is on the road. He’s good about that.

He’s a personable guy. He’s walking around the dressing room having one-on-one conversations left and right. He’s one of those guys who can have a conversation with anybody. He’s a good talker, just buzzing around talking to everybody.

What’s the biggest difference between he and Bill Peters’ coaching styles? Any similarities?

He (Ward-o) runs a very different practice than Peters. It’s a little slower paced, but with more skill focus. I’ve had Peters for so long now, I know all of his drills by heart, so Bill would say two words and I would know exactly what we drill we were doing. With Ward it’s a little different, and I’ve enjoyed it. I think it’s been a nice change of pace. I think he’s a great guy, he cares about us collectively as a group but he also cares about us individually. I think that he’s trying to convey that and he has. I think it’s serving our team well right now.

Geoff Ward Calgary Flames
Geoff Ward, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

I mean, we haven’t had Ward-o as a head coach for too long. He’s kind of making that transition from being an assistant coach, where you’re everybody’s friend, you never really have to be the bad guy and bring in bad news. Whereas now he’s the head coach, I think he gives constructive criticism a little bit more than Bill did, which is not a bad thing. I think he’s good at bringing the team into the video room and showing us whatever we’re doing right and doing wrong. That’s been a little bit different.

They’re both (Peters and Ward) pretty big on X’s and O’s. I guess every coach is nowadays. Systems are huge: strategy, where guys are on the ice. The NHL’s huge on all that anyways. But like I said, practices are a different pace. Ward-o is kind of fun, he lets us play music on the loudspeakers for the first couple of drills, which is kind of fun.

How does that work, with the music? Is there a rotation of players that get to control the AUX cord?

I don’t even know how it works, I think somebody had the choice on the first day. Now I think it’s just random. I don’t even know who’s running it during the practice. The first day was more like hip-hop, then the second day was more country. So I think they’re just switching it up trying to get all the different genres in.

If you got to control the music, what would you play?

It’s almost always country related. Eric Church radio, Luke Combs radio. If it’s something before the game, it’ll probably be more 2000’s alternative rock, like Nirvana or Pearl Jam, maybe Metallica for a pre-game amp up.

Your son Zane plays hockey. Last time I was here he showed me all of the different goal celebrations he knows. Be honest, did you teach him those or did he pick that up somewhere else?

I did not teach him those. That’s a good question. It’s pretty funny, he must just watch on TV I guess, the highlights or whatever it is. After a Flames practice if we get him on the ice with the guys, he’ll be messing around with Mangi (Andrew Mangiapane) and Tobes (Tobias Rieder) or whoever it is. He just cracks them up with how he’s working on his celebrations. Like he will go on a breakaway, score, and then work on this celebrations.

Derek Ryan Calgary Flames
Calgary Flames’ Derek Ryan (centre) celebrates his goal with teammates (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

What’s the best part of being a hockey parent?

It’s exciting to see Zane, he’s falling in love with the game just like I did at that age. It’s fun to watch that he just loves to get up for his practices. If he has an early morning practice he’s up way earlier than he should be, just because he’s excited he gets to go play hockey that day. It’s just cool to see him love the game and enjoy going.

Do you ever plan ahead for what you will do if Zane is really good?

I wouldn’t say I’m planning for it, but maybe a joking conversation with my wife or my dad or my sister: “What if Zane’s really good? One of his cousins, my sister’s little boy, what if he’s really good?” I think US college is pretty good. I went the other way. Every kid’s situation is different, there’s no right answer for everyone. But I think college gives you that extra time to develop, which would have been useful for me. There are other guys who are ready right away and can make the jump earlier. But the college route’s nice to give you that time to grow and develop.

You grew up in Washington State. What was your reaction when you heard about the NHL expansion team in Seattle?

I think it’s awesome. I think it’s great for Seattle, for Washington, for the Pacific Northwest in general. I think everyone’s interested to see how that fanbase embraces it. I think they’re totally going to embrace it. They love their Seahawks, they love the soccer team there. They love the Mariners too but they’ve been bad for so long that it’s kind of hard. I’m excited to have a team there, I think they will do awesome in terms of fanbase and support. I think they’re probably going to have a good team right away too, if they’re anything like the Vegas Golden Knights, which will help.

If you had carte blanche to name the new Seattle NHL franchise all by yourself, what would you name it?

Emeralds, I don’t really like. Seattle Sockeyes, is that a thing? I like that one. Sockeyes just makes me think of Seattle and the Pike Place Market, throwing the fishes around in the markets down there. That’s my favourite. It’s something different too. It’s not safe, it’s out there a little bit.

Metropolitans would be good too. I’m not liking the Kraken.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, center left, holds a jersey after the NHL Board of Governors announced Seattle as the league’s 32nd franchise, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, in Sea Island Ga.. Joining Bettman, from left to right, is Jerry Bruckheimer, David Bonderman, David Wright, Tod Leiweke and Washington Wild youth hockey player Jaina Goscinski. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Which Calgary Flame would survive the longest in a zombie apocalypse?

If I can include staff, it’s hands down Ryan van Asten, the strength and conditioning coach. If I can’t include the staff… let’s see. There’s a lot of young guys on the team that aren’t really good at surviving on their own. So it’s probably going to be an older guy. That’s me discriminating against Millennials there a little bit. 

Can I say myself? I’m thinking of someone outdoorsy and resourceful who could go camping in Banff for the next year and survive. If you’re thinking just strength, I would say Giordano for that, he’s a strong guy. But adding resourcefulness is an interesting twist.

I’m going to say Michael Stone. I wouldn’t call him super outdoorsy but I feel like he could be a bit of a MacGyver and just work his way through, maybe build some stuff. And he’s a big strong guy too, so he has a combination there. Yeah, Mike Stone.

Michael Stone Calgary Flames
Michael Stone, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Would you rather fight one horse-sized chicken or 500 chicken-sized horses?

I think I would rather fight one horse-sized chicken. That’s what I’m going with. Five hundred, that’s a lot. I gotta take just the one, then I can focus on that one. I don’t know what that reveals about me, maybe I like to focus on one task at a time. I wouldn’t want 500 things around me.

What if I brought the number down to 100 chicken-sized horses?

That’s still too many. That’s crazy. That would be basically the same thing to me. Even if they’re just like little stuffed animals, I don’t like that. It’s too many.

If a movie was made about your life, which actor would you want to play the role of Derek Ryan?

I don’t even know. I mean, do you go with someone that’s like you personality-wise? I don’t think so, because they’re an actor.

I’ve been told that I look like several different actors. Daniel Radcliffe. I’ve gotten that one. Elijah Wood. There’s another guy that I always get chirped about by our assistant strength guy: He says I look like Frankie Muniz. 

If you’re going to go pure looks, I’ll go with one of those guys. Probably Elijah Wood because he’s the better looking of all of them. If I can say anyone, obviously I want to say someone like Tom Cruise. I dunno, we should get that movie in production and see what the casting person comes up with.

The Player

Ryan, or “Doc” as he is called in Calgary’s locker room, joined the Flames in July 2018 as a free agent from the Carolina Hurricanes. His signing came shortly after the Flames signed former head coach Bill Peters, and then traded for Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin, all from the Hurricanes. While Ryan may have gotten lost in all those acquisitions, he has stood out as a consistent and versatile presence on Calgary’s third line since then.