BEIJING — When Sidney Crosby scored the golden goal for Team Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, there was perhaps no greater moment of Nova Scotian pride for a province that loves to celebrate its own.
On Thursday, Troy Ryan hopes to join in some of that provincial love as he works off the bench for Team Canada’s women’s team. gold medal showdown against USA
Ryan’s leadership brought the twin strengths of stability and creativity to a team that, in all likelihood, was ready for a game of each.
With a turnover of staff – including 10 first-time Olympians here – and a slightly too busy coaching carousel over the past decade, Ryan has fit right in with this dynamic group.
He empowered his players, worked closely with General Manager Gina Kingsbury and encouraged the team to embrace their inherent offensive creativity.
But maybe it’s best to let fellow Nova Scotian forward Blayre Turnbull describe Ryan’s impact on a group playing with supreme confidence right now.
“A big part of why our culture has been so great is because of Troy and the environment he helped create,” said Turnbull, the pride of Stellarton, Nova Scotia. “He’s a coach we can all trust, who we all believe in and we all know how much he cares about all of us. It really goes a long way.
“It’s just an environment where everyone feels safe. We collaborate on everything and everyone’s opinion counts. In the culture we’ve created, that role really suits him. He’s the perfect guy to lead our team.
Ryan and Turnbull are joined on the Canadian team by fellow Nova Scotians Jill Saulnier (Halifax), assistant coach Kori Cheverie (New Glasgow) and team doctor Tina Atkinson (Shelburne).
Although Ryan was an assistant under Laura Schuler at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, he hasn’t always been on the women’s program path.
Its roots, in fact, were with a series of lower-level junior teams in the Maritimes, from the Pictou County Crushers to the Antigonish Bulldogs to the Campbellton Tigers and several stops in between, including St. Thomas and Acadia.
But it was a chance meeting with former Canadian women’s team general manager Melody Davidson while working with Hockey Nova Scotia that the connection was made.
Their paths would cross again and eventually Ryan began working with the National Women’s Under-18 Team in 2016. One opportunity led to another and before long Ryan was on an exciting new path in hockey. .
“It wasn’t necessarily my plan, it sort of worked out,” said Ryan, a 50-year-old Spryfield native. “I quit my job at the time (in Campbellton, NB) and rode it.
“I really enjoyed it. I just loved it. It happened by chance, like a lot of things in this sport, but it couldn’t have gone better.
Ryan accepted the role and was embraced by both his players and Hockey Canada management. After Canada slipped to bronze at the 2019 World Championships, he was signed as head coach and hasn’t looked back.
Neither did the program, which took the world by storm under his watch this summer and achieved a 6-0 record and a berth in the gold medal game here in Beijing.
Among the many wise actions Ryan has taken along the way has been carefully nurturing player voice in the process, identifying a leadership group of six players. As a man coaching a women’s game, he worked carefully with Kingsbury, a former Olympian herself, to stay on top of all the nuances.
“I think he made it a player-focused team,” veteran Natalie Spooner said. “He also managed to ensure that we have a say, where everything is not simply structured.
“And in games he’s cool, calm and collected, which really carries over to our whole team.”
Ryan hasn’t been shy about implementing what he thinks is the right approach, including pushing players to be more dynamic offensively. But the key was to identify and accept the right voices within the leadership group.
“A lot of this happens organically,” Ryan said. “We talk about holding people accountable, but that doesn’t happen by accident. You need to trust the people who hold you accountable and have a team mentality.
“For me, in bad teams, the leadership can just be the voice of the players and I think that’s unhealthy. With this group, the leadership is the players, but also the voice of the staff right down to the players. I think it has to go both ways.”
Although Ryan leads his players, he says he also learns from them. A handful of team members train at varying levels, with some showing an affinity for the craft. This, too, will only help women’s football if many of them progress through the elite coaching ranks.
“A number of them ask me to share my exercise book with them,” laughs Ryan. “There’s nothing like having a good conversation with a top player to improve at what you do.”
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