Tales of a First-Round Nothing: My Life as an NHL Footnote

Tales of a First-Round Nothing: My Life as an NHL Footnote

by Terry Ryan

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Terry Ryan was poised to take the hockey world by storm when he was selected eighth overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1995 NHL draft, their highest draft pick in a decade. Expected to go on to become a hockey star, Ryan played a total of eight NHL games for the Canadiens, scoring no goals and no assists: not exactly the career he, or anyone else, was


Terry Ryan was poised to take the hockey world by storm when he was selected eighth overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1995 NHL draft, their highest draft pick in a decade. Expected to go on to become a hockey star, Ryan played a total of eight NHL games for the Canadiens, scoring no goals and no assists: not exactly the career he, or anyone else, was expecting.

Though Terry’s NHL career wasn’t long, he experienced a lot and has no shortage of hilarious and fascinating revelations about life in pro hockey on and off the ice. In Tales of a First-Round Nothing, he recounts the time he was dared to drink 24 beers in eight hours, partying with rock stars, and everything in between. Ryan tells it like it is, detailing his rocky relationship with Michel Therrien, head coach of the Canadiens, and explaining what life is like for a man who was unprepared to have his career over so soon.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Selected eighth overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1995 NHL draft, Ryan seemed designed for greatness and a long career. Instead he was a self-described "flop," a player whose career was marked by injuries and catastrophically bad decisions. A decade later, he was a former NHL player; today he plays senior hockey for "three figures" a week. The author provides a stream of wry anecdotes, which offer snapshots of his life as he evolved from a promising recruit to a has-been, from a callow young man to a contented family man. Many people might be embittered by such a turn of events, but Ryan takes a more positive approach; he may have played just eight games with the Canadiens but he did have an NHL career. Not someone to bitterly obsess over "if only," Ryan acknowledges his own role in the set-backs that beset him while celebrating the genuinely good consequences of his career and its aftermath, not least of which is his marriage. With forewords by NHL veteran Arron Asham and singer-songwriter Jim Cuddy of the iconic Canadian band Blue Rodeo, the work is sometimes unpolished but genuinely endearing. (May) Agent; Brian J. Wood
From the Publisher

"I never thought of Terry Ryan’s pro hockey career as memorable until I picked up a copy of his soon-to-be-published book, Tales of a First-Round Nothing: My Life as an NHL Footnote . . . The book is an honest, poignant and often funny look at the life of a player on the fringe." — Montreal Gazette

"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." — Sports Book Review Center

Product Details

ECW Press
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5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)
1150L (what's this?)

Read an Excerpt

From the Introduction
I have two separated shoulders, an ankle that’s been damaged beyond repair, and unstable knees. Irritating the elbows they were once attached to, numerous bone chips float inside me. The outside part of my right hand has been numb since 2001, when a skate lacerated my forearm’s tendons. On cold days my joints hurt — nearly all of them — but especially my knuckles and even more specifically the ones on my right hand. To date I’ve absorbed over 150 stitches, and my nose is crooked from being broken a half dozen times. Sometimes it hurts to breathe, and I am pretty certain it is due to the fact I once broke my ribs — collapsing a lung — and played through it. Scars line my body and pain lives under them.

I am a former professional hockey player, an eighth overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft. I am also the answer to this “Useless Sports Trivia” classic: What Montreal Canadiens first-rounder went three picks ahead of Jarome Iginla in 1995?

My name is Terrence William James Ryan, Junior. And I am what would be considered in hockey circles — hell, in any sports circle — a first-round “flop.”

I currently play senior hockey for a very modest three figures a week.

Why, you ask? For the same reason I wrote this book. I love the game: the team concept, the finesse, the toughness, the camaraderie . . . the whole experience. The game is beautiful. Most of life’s important lessons can be taught on the ice and in the values that make a player a good teammate. Learning to win is about learning to lead and succeed through unity. It requires acts of unselfishness that make you not only a better player but a better person. Hockey is a great metaphor for life because the attributes it takes to be successful on the ice mirror the realities of the everyday grind. Life is full of ups and downs — and so is a hockey career. Learning to deal with it can be difficult and rewarding.

I want to point out that this isn’t a traditional autobiography. These are simply stories that I have written down over the years. I edited them and connected the dots, and here we are. The game of hockey is simply the vehicle that made these stories possible. They are for the most part in chronological order, and some walk the fine line between hilarious and inappropriate, but I am not going to apologize. I have no regrets about any of them.

From the chapter “The Mike Milbury Story”
Edmonton, Alberta: three days before the 1995 NHL Entry Draft. It was beneficial for guys in my league that the draft was held in Edmonton — the WHL had many fans and representatives on hand for reasons of simple geography. Most NHL teams had entire hotel rooms booked for the week, and if you happened to be a draft prospect or player of interest, it was likely that you were going to be interviewed in one of the rooms by the brass. Tri-Cities had numerous players who were draft-eligible, and along with myself two other guys would also be selected in the first round (Brian Boucher number 21, Daymond Langkow number 5). Three more players would be drafted in later rounds: Pavel Kriz (97), Boyd Olson (138), and Ray Schultz (184). Lanks, Boyd, and Schultzy were from Edmonton, so come draft day we would have a bigger cheering section than most.

I remember doing a lot of the pre-draft stuff with Daymond, maybe because we played on the same line. A few of those “interviews” stand out. New Jersey, for example, was basically a fitness test culminating with the dreaded VO2 max challenge. This test is pretty much mandatory now in most training camps. It is important because it measures the maximum capacity of a player’s body to use and transport oxygen during exercise, and this in turn gives one a general sense of the player’s physical condition. I considered it torture — you start at a light jog on a treadmill with a tube in your mouth and the machine picks up its grade and speed each minute until finally you are sprinting uphill. You don’t jump off until you literally can’t go any more. This, for me and many others, meant blurred vision and dizziness. There’s healthy competition between players, especially at an event like this, and most guys hold nothing back.

Washington’s one-on-one time included interviews that seemed to test IQ and stuff, and if they were seriously interested in picking you they would have likely already flown you down to Washington for more elaborate testing. This was actually a blast; we had a great group of about 15 guys who made the trek to DC, and we made the most of it, to say the least (more about that later).

Things were getting monotonous, and Lanks and I were in the midst of what seemed like our 100th interview, answering what seemed like our millionth question.

Q: Are you a follower or a leader?

A: I lead by example. The only place I comes before team is in the dictionary, and I do whatever I have to in order to get that message across to my coaches and teammates.

Q: So, do you drink alcohol?

A: Not really. I have had it a few times if we are together on a bus trip. Team-bonding type of stuff.

Q: Do you have good morals and values, and what are some of your hobbies?

A: Well, I am glad you asked. I would think I do have good values, as I was brought up by great parents. As far as hobbies go, I like to read. In fact, last night I realized I forgot my books at home so I went back to my hotel room and read the Bible again. Did I mention I give 110% every night?

And so on, and so on, and so on. I mean, you are 18 years old, with limited life experience; there’s only so much you can add to these answers to spice them up.

I called my agent, Mike Barnett (he was Daymond’s agent too). Mike represented Wayne Gretzky and a slew of other superstars, and Lanks and I were fortunate to have that kind of experience on our side. Mike confirmed that I had only two interviews left: one with the New York Islanders, which would be conducted by Mike Milbury, and one with the Tampa Bay Lightning, which would take place with the legendary Phil Esposito. I told him to call the Islanders and tell them I would be right up.

Five minutes later I was at my meeting. I walked in and took a seat at the far end of the table, noticing an empty chair at the other end. All the scouts and team brass were sitting around the table; it was long and oval and gave the place a conference-room feel. These guys seemed to like me and, if I do say so myself, I was doing a better than average job. I hate to act like I wasn’t still in awe of the situation, but it was getting hard to answer the same questions over and over every day. The fact that these guys were picking topics I hadn’t discussed yet was as exhilarating as a breath of fresh air after leaving a cluttered dressing room during the playoffs.

After what I would guess to be fifteen or twenty minutes, the room went silent and I heard footsteps coming in from the adjoining room. The sound of the footsteps started faint and grew louder and louder, until finally there he was. It was the GM of the New York Islanders himself, Mike Milbury. He had a presence about him and immediately started asking the non-sugar-coated questions and throwing out comments I had yet to hear from the other teams. His statements were cloaked in criticism. “You skate faster with the puck than without it,” he said first.

“Okay, I never noticed that,” I replied.

“And you sure benefited from playing with Daymond Langkow the whole year,” was his next dig.

“Well, I like to think he benefited from playing with me too, Mr. Milbury,” I said with open eyes and a puppy dog look on my face.

“And finally,” he said, “I heard you had a good tilt with Wade Belak.” Belak was one of the WHL’s most feared players and a legitimate heavyweight. He was a great person — and out of my league when it came to fighting. I hung in there with him once that season and never fought him again because the fight legend was gaining momentum and I didn’t want to ruin it.

“Do you really think you could do it again?”

I was getting annoyed, but I knew he was testing me. He was a former player and was doing exactly what I would do if I was in the same situation with a young smartass in front of me today. He was getting a feel for me. I was intrigued and accepted his challenge.

“Mr. Milbury, if you don’t like me, don’t select me. You guys are picking at number one, where I know I am not going. Your next pick is at number 20-something, and I sure as hell know I am not going there. Judging by the Central Scouting ratings, I will probably fall somewhere comfortably in the middle. There is a better guy for you in this draft pool than me, obviously.”

The tension was building.

“Okay, kid,” he says. “I am going to give you a scenario. Let’s say it’s 10:50 and you and a buddy have just been out with a couple girls. Your buddy leaves and you are left alone with a beautiful young girl who really digs you. It’s a 10-minute drive home and curfew is at 11:00, but she invites you to stay for a few minutes and you know if you do you will get lucky. Remember, it’s a 10-minute drive. What do you do, kid?”

I swear to God the answer popped into my head immediately like I had been waiting to hear those words my entire young life.

“Well, Mike,” I said, now choosing to drop the “Mr. Milbury” moniker. I took a sip of my bottled water so as to build the suspense. “I fuck her for five minutes and then I speed home!”

I knew it was the end of my meeting anyway, and as I looked around the table, half the scouts were laughing and half were looking at each other in disbelief. I got up and made my way to the door, totally realizing I may have stepped out of line, but in my mind the joke was justifiable, so fuck it. And I was right, they weren’t realistically going to take me anyway. The comment probably sounded cocky coming from a kid, but I was trying to be witty more than anything. Either way, I am glad I said it, because the story has been good to me over the years, and has always been received with a few laughs. It has come to represent a time in my life I look back on with great fondness — we had the world by the balls without fully realizing it.

From the chapter “Napoleon’s Bone”
Right after the Milbury interview, I made my way to my last meeting, with hockey legend Phil Esposito, GM of Tampa Bay. It wound up being my favourite meeting of all, because of his honesty and the fact that he was a Canadian icon. His brother Tony — one of the best goalies ever — was present as well, so it was all a little surreal.

Hell, the whole week was surreal.

I walked into the room and Espo sat me down and said, “Kid, I heard about the answer you gave in the Islanders meeting . . . funny stuff! By the way, how far apart did Napoleon sleep from his wife?”

“A Bonaparte,” I answered, again ready for anything.

“Ha! Awesome, kid. Now, I am going to be honest. We are not looking at taking you at fifth overall, but we are very interested in your pal Daymond Langkow. What can you tell me about him?”

“Well, Mr. Esposito,” I started to say, as my answers seemed rehearsed by this point, “he is a hard worker, great shot, tough, great in the dressing room. He is a great fit for any organization, and . . .”

He cut me off.

“Okay, okay, listen Terry, I mean what kind of guy is he? Do you trust him and do you guys hang out? Is he hung up on women? Does he handle pressure well? And by the way, you can call me Espo.”

“Espo, the guy is a great friend, hockey or no hockey,” I said. “He is trustworthy, from a great family, and his determination to succeed has never been second-guessed by anyone I have known who has spent any time with him during the last three years. He gets along well with his girlfriend, Stephanie — they are both close pals.”

“Thanks, kid. The interview is now over, but feel free to hang out with Tony and me for a bit. We can chat a little.”

I started with the 1972 Summit Series and must have worn those men out with questions. For the next hour I sat and shot the shit with two guys who were almost 40 years my senior and who had very little in common with me . . . except that we were hockey players. But, of course, that was all we needed.

Meet the Author

Terry Ryan: Terry Ryan played professional hockey for nearly a decade, and continues to play in a senior league. He is currently completing an education degree and lives in Portugal Cove, Newfoundland, with his wife and their two children.
Aaron Asham: Arron Asham was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 1996 and has played more than 850 NHL games for the Habs, Islanders, Devils, Flyers, Penguins and New York Rangers.
Jim Cuddy: Jim Cuddy is a singer, songwriter and founding member of the internationally acclaimed Canadian band Blue Rodeo.

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