Ryan Doubles Down Behind the Bench
by Andrew PODNIEKS |02 APR 2024
Canada head coach Troy Ryan has words for his players during Preliminary Round - Group A action against Finland at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship at KVIK Hockey Arena on August 25, 2022 in Herning, Denmark.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Matt Zambonin
Troy Ryan is preparing for his fifth major tournament with Canada’s national team, and as he does so he puts aside his PWHL Toronto coaching duties for a couple of weeks. The PW team got off to a slow start, then reeled off eleven wins in a row before losing to Ottawa prior to the IIHF Women’s World Championship break. With the national team, Ryan won three gold in a row before being derailed a year ago in Brampton, so now he is trying to get the team back to the top of the podium. He spoke by phone to IIHF.com’s Andrew Podnieks from the team’s training HQ in Kingston, Ontario, before leaving for Utica, New York.
AP: How has it worked out so far coaching PWHL Toronto with one eye and being the national team coach with the other?
TR: Quite often in my career I’ve been working with a club team, or in Nova Scotia, for instance, I worked with a short-term team or a provincial team, although it’s a little different because of the level. I’m used to putting one hat on and then taking it off and putting another one on. The one thing that’s good about this combination is that they both work in conjunction with each other. The national team doesn’t work without the PWHL players.
AP: And you can scout so many of the top players on a nightly basis in the PW.
TR: Yes, I felt more comfortable going through the player selection this year because we had the Rivalry Series and everyone was in this league, so we had the opportunity to watch them on a daily basis. And hopefully down the road it will also be another opportunity to watch the best European players against the best players in the world.
AP: Has any player in particular surprised you as you watch them more often than you’d be able to at a short training camp?
TR: I think what we’ve found with the situation in the new league is that athletes who play a particular role with the national team, a checking player or a defensive energy type player or maybe an offensive player, and they come to the PWHL and they play a bit of a different role. I’ve seen some players taking on different responsibilities, but I’ve also seen the other side where players have attempted to take on a different role in the PWHL and have found it’s not what it would be on the national team, so they’re probably going to be better off reverting to what made them successful on the national team. I know with the team here in Toronto early on I gave the players the chance to expand and grow their game., but at some point we may have to return to the foundation of what made them successful.
AP: The player who comes to mind for me is Kristen Campbell. She has been the number three goalie with the national team for several years, but she’s your number one with Toronto.
TR: As the number three goalie with Canada, we obviously saw enough potential to draft her and make her number one in Toronto. We’ve always seen the potential; we see what she’s capable of doing. I think early in the year the ups and downs she had was just that because she didn’t have the meaningful games under her belt. She needed a bit of experience to get to that point, and obviously she’s done a great job since. But it’s not that Maschmeyer or Desbiens has done poorly in the PWHL. I think Campbell has definitely made strides, so she knows shew can contribute at this level, but so have the other two, and so has Schroeder in New York and some college goaltenders that are available.
AP: You didn’t have a training camp but the names that stick out from the final roster are the Gosling cousins because they haven’t played at the Women’s Worlds before. What is it about their games that you liked?
TR: Julia was centralized with us prior to the 2022 Olympics, so we’re quite familiar with her. The benefit of working with Hockey Canada is that you get to see them at the U18 level, at the development level, so there has been a natural progression for both Julia and Nicole. We had them playing in the Rivalry Series, so we saw them best-on-best against the top U.S. players. So Julia has been trending in this direction for a number of years and just now seems to be comfortable at this level. It‘s funny, when I called her to inform her she’d been selected to the World Championship and I realized this was her first Worlds, it almost surprised me because she’s been around our program quite some time now.
With Nicole, when Claire Thompson started to pursue medical school, she left a real void on our back end offensively. I think Ella Shelton has done a good job filling that void, and I think Nicole is just another player who potentially will bring some good offence, plays responsibly, and at this point in a four-year quad you’ve got to broaden the base of the program, get a look at a couple of younger players to see if they have some potential to play at the 2026 Olympics. That’s the case with Nicole. We don’t want to just drop her in in 2026; we want to give her some runway to see what she does at this level. And it’s just pretty good that they get to do this together for their first time.
AP: All of the PW teams have a unique identity. Carla MacLeod has a very international group in Ottawa; Minnesota is like a mini-Team USA, and Toronto is a mini-Team Canada. Was this the plan all along?
TR: It wasn’t as much by design, but I think me as a coach and Gina [Kingsbury] as a GM, we generally have a fairly distinct type of player we really think can contribute to success. So there is probably a bit of a bias there. But when you look at Larocque and Maltais and Fast, there’s not a team in the PWHL that wouldn’t want them. They play a hard game, a good mix of skill and talent, and they’re good people. But, sure, it helps that we knew them and knew what we were getting, but we’ve been very happy with Flanagan and Compher. We tried to get a couple of European players as well, but because of their contracts they couldn’t come over.
AP: At the start of the PW season I don’t think many would have said Natalie Spooner would be the league MVP, but that’s how she’s been playing. Has that surprised you?
TR: I didn’t know she would do it the way she’s doing it, the confidence that she’s doing it with, but if you look back, she has scored and produced at every level. She has made some changes to her game that will allow her to play a little longer. She used to be a player who took the puck up ice through the neutral zone to the other goal, but now you see most of her goals are scored around the next, below the goal line, or a turnover and quick transition. She’s shortened her game in two of the zones and capitalizes in the offensive zone. It’s been fun to watch. But the one thing that really separates her from everybody is that she absolutely loves to score. She has a passion for it. Everybody, obviously, likes to score, but she is driven by it, and she’s going to do the things necessary to do it.
AP: How important is it for the PW to attract more Europeans? Do you worry if it doesn’t, the PW will only serve to expand that gap between the North Americans?
TR: I think it’s important that wherever the best players are, to play in the PWHL. That’s what this league is for, and it’s obvious this is the place for them to play. There are some great players around the world that need to be here. The league started so quickly, and I think there were a lot of Europeans that were interested but ended up signing contracts in Europe for a year or two. Hopefully when those contracts expire, they’ll see the value of playing in the PWHL. There are some great players out there. And if they don’t get here, the gap will only increase.