HELSINKI – One of them is an NHL star, the other has spent the last two seasons in Europe. One of them is 188 centimetres and almost 100 kilos, the other is 175 centimeters and 80 kilos. One of them is Bobby Ryan, and the other is Ryan, too. Ryan Lasch.
To paraphrase Herb Brooks, the legendary coach of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, they were born to be players and they were meant to be here. But their routes here have been very different.
However, it’s not the first time Bobby and Ryan play together. They played youth hockey together in California.
“I lived in Los Angeles from 11 to 14, Ryan’s a California kid, and we spent a lot of time on the ice together. We lost touch over the years, though, so when I saw his name on the roster here, I had to double check that it was the same guy,” Bobby Ryan told IIHF.com.
“I knew he played in Sweden last season and seeing his name on the list was a great surprise,” he added.
Lasch, the California kid – from Lake Forest, California, to be exact – did play in Sweden last season. After four seasons of NCAA hockey with St. Cloud State University, during which he led the team in scoring twice, his career path came to a fork, and new decisions had to be made.
“I didn’t have many offers coming out of college, and I did some research on college guys who came to Europe and then returned to the U.S. and it intrigued me. Now I know I made a great decision,” Lasch says.
The season in Sweden wasn’t great for Lasch or his team, Södertälje in the Swedish Elitserien. The team got relegated from the top league and Lasch, always a point-a-game scorer in college scored 12 goals and 30 points in 55 games. Then again, that was second on team and in the dreaded relegation series, Lasch led the team in scoring, with nine points in ten games.
But he didn’t want to follow the club to the second-tier league, so he signed with Lahti Pelicans in the Finnish league instead.
“I didn’t want to go back to Sweden, it wasn’t my style of hockey. It was controlled and defensive, so I decided that I’d come to Finland and try it,” Lasch says.
Led by Lasch and Niko Hovinen, Finland’s third goalie from last year’s World Championship, the Pelicans made one of the most amazing turnarounds ever seen in Finnish hockey when a team that finished dead last in the standings in 2011 went all the way to the league final in 2012.
In Finland, Lasch, who’s quick and skilled, and has a superb hockey sense, was in his element. He led the league in scoring both in regular season and in the playoffs. He scored 24 goals and 62 points in 59 games in the regular season and added five goals and 16 points in 17 post-season games. He was also voted into the league’s All-Star Team.
Quite a jump.
“I feel like I keep getting better every year. Also, the Finnish league style is more North American, it’s more physical, the game moves north-south, and players go to the net and are physical, there’s simply more back and forth, and I think that helped me, too,” Lasch says.
In November 2011, he was invited to play for Team USA in the Deutschland Cup, an exhibition tournament between Germany, Slovakia, Switzerland, and the U.S. Even though the American team lost all their games in the tournament, Lasch scored one and got an assist to another one of the three goals that the U.S. scored in the tournament.
That and his great season in Finland caught USA Hockey’s attention, and here he is now, representing the U.S. in the 76th World Championship in Helsinki, Finland.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be playing here. I played well all season and I played well in the Deutschland Cup, and they gave me the opportunity and I’m grateful for that,” he says.
“The guys are a lot smarter on this level and that’s the main difference,” he adds.
In the game against Finland, which the U.S. won 5-0, Lasch played on the same line with the Colorado Avalanche’s Paul Stastny and the Montreal Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty.
“It was definitely the best line I’ve ever played in. We played well and created chances. It’s exciting to play with great guys like that,” Lasch says.
And he’s right at home wearing the U.S. jersey.
“He’s been great for us, because he’s a big-ice player. He’s smaller but he’s so crafty with the puck. It’s great to see him rewarded for the year he put together here,” Bobby Ryan says, smiling.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve been on the ice together. It’s really cool to wear the Team USA jersey together. It’s amazing, isn’t it?” he adds.