By Art Petrosemolo
Still a teenager at 18, with uncommon skating skills, Rumson’s Joakim Ryan is living his dream playing Division 1 hockey on the way to the NCAA tournament as a true freshman at Cornell University.
You almost could have predicted it.
Ryan who saw action in 32 games for the Big Red, scoring six goals and 10 assists including an assist in the ECAC championships helping his team to earn a NCAA hockey tournament first round appearance against Michigan in Green Bay, WI, Friday.
Ryan and his team made the NCAA’s taking third place in the ECAC hockey championship in Atlantic City last weekend. Cornell lost to Ivy League rival Harvard 6-1 in game one and then shutout Colgate 3-0 with Ryan assisting on the team’s second goal.
The young defenseman, with parents, family and friends in the stands, had solid tournament games seeing regular shifts including killing penalties and skating in the power play lineup. Cornell’s appearance in the ECAC championship was the fifth in succession for the team.
Ryan started skating before the age of three at the Navesink Country Club’s outdoor rink, recalls his dad and skating instructor William Ryan who played hockey at Lawrenceville. The young Ryan took to the ice naturally; maybe his Swedish heritage helped. His mother, Catarina Lindqvist, a tennis professional, played for her country in the Olympics and at one time ranked as high as 10th on the women’s pro circuit.
Maybe too, Ryan’s years living and training in Sweden as a youngster helped. Working with top US and Swedish coaches as well as Russian Olympic and NHL player Alexei Kasatonov didn’t hurt either.
Ryan’s dad thinks some of his son’s abilities can be traced back to the years in Sweden.
“The season is longer there,” says William Ryan, “and there are less games but more skating. Unlike the US where programs are geared to playing games, in Sweden, there are at least three practices to every game and sometimes players train without the puck as part of their development process.”
By the time Ryan enrolled at Christian Brothers Academy five years ago, he had already been part of youth development teams in this country and Sweden and showed the ability to excel. And excel he did, leading CBA into the state hockey tournament for three years scoring points (goals and assists) for CBA as well as for the New Jersey Junior Devils and Swedish junior teams.
Today, most elite high school players defer entering college for one year to play Jr. hockey (in the USHL) to sharpen their skills while getting bigger and stronger. Ryan, however, was ready to leave CBA after three years and played with the Dubuque (IA) Fighting Saints winning a championship. At the same time, Ryan finished his studies at the Dubuque public high school while living with a local family.
By this past fall, Ryan was game hardened and ready to play division 1 hockey at Cornell for Mike Schafer’s – always strong- program.
Ryan credits the long Dubuque season for helping him prepare for college hockey but says the players he has seen this year on division 1 teams are “bigger, faster, stronger and hit harder.” Ryan gives as hard as he takes, those who have followed his career are quick to say.
Ryan is 5-10 and 182 pounds and with his strong skating skills, “does many things with uncommon ease,” his high school coach Ryan Bogart remembers. “He just is extremely talented and a player who was dedicated to our CBA program and his teammates.” Bogart describes Ryan as a natural skater and “smooth.” With nearly 17 years on skates, it’s not hard to see why.
“Playing at Cornell is terrific,” Ryan says. “Playing division 1 hockey while getting an Ivy League education is hard to beat. The coaching is first rate and the play is intense.”
Cornell Coach Schaefer has high praise for Ryan.
“He kills penalties, he’s on the power play and he’s made a great transition from juniors to college hockey.”
Ryan opened fans’ eyes the first time he wore the Cornell hockey jersey scoring two goals and an assist in the season opener against Mercyhurst. Unfortunately, he remembers, “we lost 5-4.” Ryan’s play earned him ECAC rookie honors the last week in October.
One of the ways Cornell has lived up to its billing for Ryan, besides its academic reputation, is the interest and support for hockey from knowledgeable fans.
“Lynah rink is just filled for every home game and loud,” he says. “It’s a terrific place to play.”
One of Ryan’s biggest thrills this season was playing at Madison Square Garden.
“I grew up a Rangers’ fan,” he says, “and playing on that ice was terrific.”
Cornell played perennial national powerhouse Boston University in front of a sold out MSG crowd in November in an exciting defensive struggle. Ryan got the call skating with the first line on defense. The only downer was the score. Cornell tied the game mid-way through the third period but lost 2-1 to BU in overtime.
Where does Ryan go from here? There will be a trip to Sweden with his family in early summer before returning to campus to train with teammates in preparation for his sophomore season. And the Winter Olympics will be played in Sochi, Russian Federation in 2014. It isn’t out of the question that Ryan could be asked to train with the US national team in preparation for the competition. Those, in hockey, who know Ryan and his competitiveness think it is a distinct possibility.