Mike Van Ryn nearly missed a phone call two decades in the making last week.
Van Ryn, who was named the newest coach of the Tucson Roadrunners American Hockey League franchise last Wednesday, July 26, was far from the rink when the decision was made. Van Ryn and his family were some 2,000 miles away, taking part in his family’s yearly lobster hunt off the coast of the Florida Keys.
Van Ryn played in 353 NHL games from 2000 until 2009, said he was beyond thrilled to get the call from team general manager Steve Sullivan.
“I was lucky enough to be within cell phone reach when they called me,” Van Ryn said. “If I had been offshore and hauled in a few more lobsters, then I might have missed it.”
His quick wit that caught the eye of Sullivan, who also played for more than a decade in the NHL, when he was tasked with finding the team’s next head coach.
Sullivan, who took over as the team’s general manager position in May, said he was impressed by Van Ryn’s work with the team last season as the Roadrunners’ development coach.
Student of the game
Sullivan said he wanted to bring in a young coach that could connect and communicate well with players, all traits Sullivan said the 38-year-old Van Ryn has in spades. “His thought process, to be honest with you, is fantastic,” Sullivan said. “How he’s always trying to find a way to be better. He’s always thinking about the game, and he’s truly a student of the game, and that’s what I enjoy most about him.”
Van Ryn, who will replace former coach Mark Lamb, is tasked with turning around a franchise that went 29-31-8 in their inaugural season, finishing sixth in the AHL’s eight-team Pacific Division.
It won’t be the first time Van Ryn has been tasked with leading a hockey club; the London, Ontario-native previously skippered the Kitchener (Ontario) Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League to a 44-17-5 record last season.
Van Ryn said he feels blessed to be given the opportunity to continue working with the young cast of players in Tucson, and said he is ready to get started in his new role.
“It’s a great place to be,” Van Ryn said. “I really enjoyed my first year here and I’m really honored to have the chance to keep working with these players and to build that relationship with them in the coming years.”
The Roadrunners, as the Arizona Coyotes’ top minor league affiliate, will be asked to mirror their operations to what the big league club does, meaning Van Ryn is tasked with developing a similar development strategy to what the NHL club will use this season.
Van Ryn said he has no qualms about doing so, but plans on implementing a few eccentricities to his offensive and defensive schemes as well.
“When I was in Kitchener, we played a very high-tempo game, and both (Sullivan) and I are very passionate about the same things,” Van Ryn said. “So it’s a good working relationship, and I think fans will see a team that wants to put a lot of pressure on opponents to create off their mistakes.”
Van Ryn soaked up a lot of institutional knowledge of the sport during his time as an assistant coach with the Houston Aeros of The American Hockey League, in addition to his playing days with the St. Louis Blues, Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs.
He said he is ready to put that knowledge to use when his Roadrunners take to the Tucson Arena ice for the first time on Oct. 7 against the rival San Diego Gulls.
“I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to coach and play under some really good, if not Hall of Fame coaches,” Van Ryn said. “So you take bits of what you like and you try to build your own style.”
In addition to Van Ryn, the club announced that John Slaney and Steve Potvin have been named assistant coaches. Potvin joined the Coyotes organization last August as the skills coach. The 42-year-old Montreal, Quebec-native joined the Coyotes after a professional career including 478 professional AHL and European league appearances. Slaney joined the Coyotes as an assistant coach in the summer of 2015. He previously worked four seasons as an assistant coach with the Portland Pirates, the Coyotes’ former AHL affiliate.
“I’m very pleased to name Mike as our new head coach for the Tucson Roadrunners,” said Arizona Coyotes President of Hockey Operations and General Manager John Chayka, in a press release. “Mike has great knowledge of the game and is an excellent communicator. He did a great job working with and developing our top prospects in Tucson last season and together with John and Steve, will form a very good coaching staff for us.”