JOHN BROWNE: ‘A first-round nothing’ with lots to say

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John Browne
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I’d never seen a minor hockey player as good as Terry Ryan.
After covering him for the first time playing in a local bantam-level game, my feature story later that week was headlined The Can’t Miss Kid.
And when he was eventually drafted eighth overall by the Montreal Canadiens, after a superb major junior career, that headline seemed prophetic.

Terry Ryan's book "Tale of a First-Round nothing: My Life as an NHL Footnote"

Now, after all of these years, the 37-year-old Ryan is playing in the local senior hockey league but, ironically, may hit the big time in literature.

His book, which is on sale in local book stores, is titled “Tales Of A First-round Nothing: My Life As An NHL Footnote.” The title’s honest, funny and apt all things considered.

Ryan was an avid reader as a youngster and his favourite books were by Judy Blume.

One of the books he read in Grade 5 was entitled "Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing," “so that’s what popped into my head when I was asked to come up with a title for my own book,” Ryan explained.

Ryan played only eight games in the National Hockey League, but he’s always had the gift of gab — handed down, no doubt, from his dad, Terry Ryan Sr. — and that may be the talent that makes him and interesting subject for a book.

He was a talented, scrappy kid who didn’t pick his spots in the pros. At various levels of the game, he fought Tie Tomi, Wade Belak, Jody Shelley and Shawn Thornton and that little nuisance Matthew Barnaby, among others.

A first-round pick, however, is expected to score goals and that’s something Ryan didn’t do in the eight games he played in the NHL.

He said to this day many people still feel sorry for him because he was a bust as an NHLer.

“They’re always asking what happened” said Ryan who says he doesn’t have any lingering regrets of his hockey/life journey.

“The fact is, I had to stop playing pro hockey because of an ankle injury. If I’d been healthy I would have still looked to play somewhere including Europe, but my ankle couldn’t take the strain.”

He said there was less strain skating in the local senior league because there aren’t that many games and he’s kept playing simply because he loves the game.

Ryan was a member of Clarenville Caribous Allan Cup team which finished runner up to Dundas Real McCoys this past weekend.

He didn’t play in the opening game of the tournament because of a carry-over suspension from the Herder Trophy final. Still nursing a rib injury and admittedly “a little broken up,” Ryan said he was prepared to play if needed but he didn’t want to insert himself into a lineup that was having success.

Clarenville ran off three straight wins to make it to the tourney final before losing in overtime to the host club.

“I wasn’t about to disrupt the team’s chemistry,” said Ryan who added he probably won’t return to senior hockey next season, despite the fact this province is playing host to the national championship.

Ryan hopes to sell at least 5,000 copies of his book which would make it a Canadian best seller and doesn’t rule out the possibility of writing a follow up. He says he still has plenty of material.

He has some impressive connections and they’ve helped him support the book.

He’s been on a whirlwind tour of Ontario TV and radio stations the last few weeks.

“It’s been hectic,” he said “but a good hectic. I didn’t expect all of this.”

He said the genesis of the book was actually from a journal he’s kept over the years.

He managed to get hockey player Aaron Asham and Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo, both friends, to write forewords.

Because he has a lot of friends in the business, he’s getting on the best radio and TV shows such as a live, full segment on Bob McCown’s popular Prime Time Sports show last Thursday on Sportsnet with superb sportswriter Stephen Brunt.

Both McCown and Brunt were obviously getting a kick out of Ryan who was regaling them with an often rambling account about knocking out his teeth with a sledge hammer. It’s a story that could have been right out of the movie Slap Shot, except it’s true.

Ryan said he valued Brunt’s opinion and touched base with him at least three times over the past four years while he contemplated what to do with all of his notes.

“I’d text him and bounced some ideas off him to see what he thought. He liked the direction I was going and he helped me out.”

Sunday night, Ron MacLean, a friend of Ryan’s who likes to promote Canadian music, used Michel Pagliaro’s Some Sing, Some Dance song to start Hockey Night in Canada’s playoff game between Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay. Maclean mentioned the song idea came from Ryan. Apparently, it came from conversations about Canadian music Ryan has had with MacLean over the years.

MacLean and veteran Montreal Gazette columnist Pat Hickey’s promotional blurbs are included on the book as well.

A huge music fan, Ryan considers himself a bit of an expert on Canadian songs and groups, so before we finished the interview Tuesday night I tested him with my favourite Canadian song that some might consider obscure, although it was a hit in this country many years ago.

I asked him what group sang, “Make Me Do Everything You Want”?

Ryan hesitated a moment and then sang the tune correctly.

“Let me think…something to do with feet —  A Foot in Cold Water!”

He still can’t miss.

•••••

So sad to hear about John Furlong’s passing.

He was the first friend I made when I began work at The Daily News in the early 1970s. He also turned me on to Cat Stevens and when I found out he was also a Boston Bruins fan, well, that cemented our friendship.

I’ve never had much interest in the fisheries, but often found myself listening to John’s interviews because he was the kind of interviewer you could learn from. He was a real pro. A real Townie crackie at times.

“And though you want to last forever

You know you never will

(You know you never will)

And the goodbye makes the journey harder still.”

— Cat Stevens, “O Very Young

 

jbrowne@thetelegram.com

Organizations: National Hockey League, Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Gazette Daily News Boston Bruins

Geographic location: Europe, Ontario, Canada Tampa Bay Cold Water

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