Chestermere athlete, Ryan Conroy received the silver medal in the 2019 Sirius World Junior Club Cup Hockey Tournament in Sochi Russia.
“Overall I thought we did very well and came together as a team very quickly,” Conroy said.
“Considering we came in as the underdogs, and a lot of people were guaranteeing a gold game between Russia and Finland, we cemented ourselves pretty well,” he added.
Conroy is proud of how the tournament went, and how he played, by scoring one goal, having three assists, and having roughly 24 minutes in penalties.
Although getting the silver medal was a little disappointing to Conroy, having the opportunity to play hockey in Russia was amazing.
“It was honouring, and I’m super grateful to be able to do that,” Conroy said.
Conroy was chosen from the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) Hockey league along with 22 other athletes to travel and play for an all-star team by coaches Rick Swan, and Boris Rybalka.
“They picked different guys from all around the league, and who they thought was the best,” Conroy said.
Despite never actually playing with any of the athletes before, everyone came together and worked together.
“I was named captain for the team, that was a nice honour to have and be able to lead all the guys, and be looked to as a leader,” Conroy said.
Before the 2019 Sirius World Junior Club Cup Hockey Tournament beginning, Conroy and his team were able to play exhibition games, and practice.
Although they had opportunities to practice before the tournament began, the team could not prepare for the different style of hockey the European teams played.
“It’s a lot more flowy, they are always skating. Here we play a lot more posting up for passes, stopping by the boards, dumping the puck and then chasing it,” Conroy said.
“They are a lot more possession-based, they are always regrouping
in the neutral zone, always swinging for the puck, and when they receive a pass they are always at full speed,” he said.
He added, “They were at a higher speed a lot more of the time, our way was a lot more physical, we played a lot more of a hard-nosed style game.”
Along with playing a different style of game, their pre-game rituals surprised Conroy and his team.
“The other biggest thing that stood out to us was the teams don’t dress up. For us, a huge part is always wearing a suit for a game, the first game we played against the Russian team they were wearing ripped jeans and hats walking into the rink,” Conroy said.
“That was a really big shock to me,” he added.
Leading up to the tournament Conroy and the team faced challenges, including the time change, and playing with new team members.
“Having a brand-new group of guys, you have to get to know and play for them and be willing to sacrifice yourself for the benefit of the team,” Conroy said.
Along with playing with a new group of athletes, practicing in the hot, humid weather in Sochi, was also challenging.
“The first couple practices seemed harder than they would be over here,” Conroy said.
He added, “With all of the humidity, you’re sweating a lot, so you have to make sure you’re drinking a lot of water and stretching out. You’re always dehydrated if you’re not.”
Although a majority of Conroy’s time in Russia was spent at the rink, he did have a chance to visit the Kremlin and the Red Square, and he got to shake Vladimir Putin’s hand.
“Putin was at the tournament, and he dropped the puck. The Russia captain and I got to shake his hand,” Conroy said.
Without the ongoing support of Conroy’s friends, and family having the opportunity to travel while pursuing hockey at a high-level wouldn’t have been possible.
“The reason I’m at where I am, getting these kinds of opportunities is a large part from my parent’s support, and my coaches support, and families support,” Conroy said.
“When I was over there, my brother, two of my aunts, and my mom were there supporting me, and that meant a lot,” he added. “Thank you to the AJHL and the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) for giving me the opportunity.”
Moving forward, Conroy is preparing for another year playing for the Fort McMurray Oil Barons.