Ryan McAleese reflects on his childhood, travel hockey and FGCU
Ryan McAleese is looking forward to ending his senior year on a high note with another American Collegiate Hockey Association’s Nation Tournament run for Florida Gulf Coast University.
The team played its final game Feb. 8 against the Wagner College Warriors. The D2 ice hockey club now has until March 20 to prepare for the national tournament in Marlborough, Mass. McAleese is overly excited about the opportunity to be on the team with potentially the best chance in the nation to win the championship. If the Eagles make it through the final game, this will be McAleese’s second national title playing for the FGCU ice hockey team.
“Winning the championship is definitely one of the most exciting things that ever happened to me,” McAleese said. “Seeing the rink that packed—person-to-person, standing three-people deep behind the glass, the stands full. There are videos of it on YouTube, counting down the final minute. It brings tears to the guys’ eyes when we think about it and it’s something we try to drive into the new guys on the team — the importance of it, how serious it is and try to prepare for the upcoming nationals because you don’t understand until you’re there.”
McAleese began playing hockey at a young age.
“My dad got me into skates as soon as I was able to wear a size that fit me. We actually had skate blades that just wrapped around your tennis shoes if we were too small to fit into skates.” McAleese said. “Like most Canadians, we had a rink in our backyard. That’s where I learned to fine tune my skills.”
McAleese began playing organized travel hockey at age 8 and his passion for the sport grew from there.
“I remember being 8 or 9 years old finding a bucket and filling it with as much heavy stuff as I could,” McAleese said. “I would be lifting it at 2 in the morning trying to get stronger. I wanted to get better, and that’s when I knew that I wanted to be a hockey player.”
In Canada, they never had to travel very far to find a team to play. The difference McAleese experienced was when he left Canada for the States when he was 12 years old.
When he moved to Nashville for his father’s job, he played high school hockey at a private school (Battle Ground Academy BGA) on a full ride scholarship. At 14 years old, as a freshman playing against foes up to age 18, he led the league by 20 points — which had never been done before. After two years, he moved to Atlanta to be on a travel team.
McAleese had great influences in his life coaching him and guiding him to be the best player he could be on the ice, and the best person he could be off the ice.
“My dad was a major influence in my life. My grandpa tried on a pair of skates for the first time and broke his ankle; he never tried hockey again,” McAleese said. “My dad was a natural-born hockey player on his own. He played in the OHL for the Kitchener Rangers. He was a senior ‘A’ after he had done that, which is kind of like glorified men’s league. It’s for better than regular men’s league players. He couldn’t wait to have a boy. He had a girl first, then me. He had me in a jersey as soon as I was born.”
McAleese said that his sister is almost as passionate about hockey as he is. Even though she never played hockey, she played several other sports. Aside from family, McAleese had other influences that helped him develop his hockey career.
“When I first moved to Nashville and played a couple super teams with the combined states, we had some really good influences, especially with coaches,” McAleese continued. “We’re talking about the roots of hockey. Bernie ‘Boom-Boom’ Geoffrion from Montreal invented the slap shot. His son was an older dad and had a kid on the team; he coached us. We had Jay More, who was a former NHL player. We had Uwe Krupp, who scored the overtime winning goal to win the Stanley Cup for Colorado. These were our coaches, along with my dad. They really drove it into our heads about how serious the sport can be, what it takes to win. They didn’t let us slack off and helped us to learn the ins and outs as much as we wanted to.”
McAleese had some memorable moments playing for AAA travel hockey when he was a teenager, besides meeting and being coached by NHL greats.
“When I was 16, I was named captain and led the first team to ever go to the national championships at our program,” McAleese said. “We didn’t make it to the finishing line, but nobody from our program had ever gone to the south regionals so I consider that a great accomplishment.”
After that junior year of high school he attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Coral Springs for two months during his senior year. A scout from Michigan had been watching him since his junior year.
“He (the scout) asked all summer before my senior year for me to come play for them, which is why two months into my senior year I chose to move to Michigan And finish school there,” McAleese said. “In the same city of finishing high school at Sault Sainte Marie, I played Tier II Junior A hockey for the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.”
He attended Lake Superior State University before transferring to FGCU in 2011. McAleese knew somebody who attended FGCU, and he knew about the success of the hockey program in Southwest Florida.
“I contacted (head coach Bob) Brinkworth before I came down and told him I wanted to be a major impact on the team,” McAleese said. “He told me, ‘It doesn’t take a letter to be a leader.’ So although I’ve never been a captain or alternate captain, I’ve always been a role leader. I try to make sure the guys stay out of trouble when I can — the level-headed guy on the team.”
McAleese came to FGCU as a management major, and he is considering a double major in marketing. He has two years of eligibility remaining with FGCU ice hockey club after having two season-ending injuries in two of his years at FGCU. With the first one, he blew out his knee and had to have ACL surgery; he only got to play for two months that season. Shortly after returning the next season, he injured his shoulder and only got to play in the last few games of the schedule. Theoretically, if McAleese decided to stay at FGCU an additional year for a double major, he will most likely be spending another year with the ice hockey team. McAleese wants to move into his career, but he has considered playing on a professional level somewhere.
“A couple years ago, I went over to play for the North American United team in Europe,” McAleese said. “I don’t think about going to Europe and playing pro that much, but it isn’t something I’ve completely ruled out. I have an uncle who lives in Australia. He wants me to come play pro over there for the Australian Hockey League.”
McAleese remains undecided about what his intentions for his career and school are. He did say that depending on how the team does at nationals this year will help him determine where he wants to end his college hockey career. The championship team of 2011-12 had more character and role players.
“I try to let the new guys know that they don’t need to be afraid and can be as much a role player as the guys who’ve been on the team for years,” McAleese said. “This year we have four lines that can all put the puck away. We need to focus on defense and keeping the puck out of the net. Being at the national championship level, there’s no time for mistakes. It’s make it or break it, and the goalies we have this year can go the distance. Our goalies are tough mentally in the net and I think they can handle playing at the championship level.
“A lot of the guys think because we’ve dominated this year that nationals is going to be a breeze,” McAleese continued. “Even though ASU is out, we still have to face teams like Grand Valley, and you never know what to expect. Getting the auto-bid to nationals was a relief, but at the same time having this much time off can hurt us if we let it. Anything can happen.”
McAleese believes the team has gotten progressively better throughout the season. Everyone has come into his own groove with his lines.
“I like playing on my line with Dan Echeverri and Mike Chemello,” McAleese said. “We call ourselves the ‘Visa line’ because we all had visas at one point. We get along well. We can read each other well. I feel like every single line knows their role and we’re able to accomplish it.”
McAleese will tell anybody that his four years at FGCU have been some of his best years. He’s enjoyed playing for the team. He thinks the off-ice training, scrimmages and practices are what’s going to keep the team ready for nationals, as long as it keeps its focus on the end goal — the national championship. His final words revolved around his own superstitions, even though he doesn’t consider himself to be one of the superstitious guys on the team.
“There’s a certain way I tape my stick and get dressed, but I don’t get into my own head,” McAleese said. “I know it’s a game and I take it seriously. As long as I feel prepared off the ice, I feel like I can do anything I need to do on the ice. Dinner is one of my superstitions. I have to eat at Outback or Olive Garden before the game.”
Ryan McAleese scores his fourth goal in the final game of the season against Wagner College.
EN Photo/Jill Himmelfarb