Like all Newfoundlanders, Terry Ryan was surrounded by stories from birth. But one he always heard about his own family home was a little too much to swallow.
Ryan, an eighth overall selection by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, grew up in Mount Pearl, N.L, where Rogers Hometown Hockey makes a stop this weekend. The town is situated just southwest of St. John’s on the other side of an essentially invisible border with the province’s biggest city. He believes the house he was raised in was among the first five built in Mount Pearl. At worst, it’s inside the top 10.
Ryan never had any trouble with that part of the tale. However, the idea his grandpa — Bill ‘Bucky’ Norris — constructed the place after losing his right arm in World War II always felt like the result of a parent playing fast and loose with the facts.
“But he did!” Ryan says, noting he’s seen the pictures that prove it. “He came back with his left hand and [with some help, naturally] he built our house. My parents still live in that house and we’re there every day.”
Bucky, who served at sea aboard the HMS Bulldog, also established the Royal Canadian Legion in Mount Pearl, learned to chuck darts as a southpaw and attended countless games his grandson took part in across a variety of sports. In recent years, Ryan — who lives in Mount Pearl with his wife, Danielle — has incorporated writing and acting into his life, and he has no trouble painting a picture of the town that was once his whole world.
“It was the type of place where your [high-school] girlfriend wears the team jacket,” he says.
Regardless of which sport Ryan, now 41, was playing, he was a Mount Pearl Blazer. Unlike St. John’s kids often grouped by somewhat arbitrary district zones, Mount Pearl’s young athletes always had a personal stake in who they were playing for.
“The kids here had a real sense of community pride because you were representing Mount Pearl,” Ryan says.
Ryan, who suited up for just eight NHL games and penned the book Tales of a First-Round Nothing in 2014, is proud of the fact he played on hockey, soccer and baseball squads from Mount Pearl that advanced through the provincial and Atlantic Canada ranks to compete on the national level. Of course, once there, they were often delivered a reality check about their underdog status.
“[The tournament hosts always] play Newfoundland or P.E.I. the first game,” says Ryan. “Everybody gets a free hot dog and the host wins 10–0. That’s the way it goes: If you’re Newfoundland or P.E.I. or the Territories, that’s the way you see a national championship.”
There are, however, a few exceptions to that rule on ‘The Rock,’ which has been known to put competitive curling rinks and rugby clubs together. The other sport in which Mount Pearl and its province are a real contender in is ball hockey.
“Everybody can run,” Ryan says, “and Newfoundlanders are [hungry as] dogs.”
Ryan remains a huge part of the ball-hockey scene in Mount Pearl, where people pay to watch games in the summer. He still plays, but has really moved into more of an ambassador role for the sport he says helped bring him back from a dark place after injuries and “bad decisions” conspired to make his NHL time so brief.
“I was bitter,” he says, noting he was also about 60 pounds overweight and going through a divorce when his pro career ended the best part of two decades ago. “I had just failed [in front of the whole world].”
Around that time, Ryan was approached by a friend about re-entering ball hockey and wound up representing Canada at the 2003 world championship. Still working his way back into shape, he played just two shifts for the victorious Canadian club in the final. A year later, he was finishing first in a series of fitness tests with the national team he’s been tied to ever since.
“I can be more at peace with hockey because of it,” Ryan says.
Clearly, he’s in a good place.