School was cool for Ivy Leaguer Steeves

by Kevin Bartl

The route to the pros has changed for countless Canadian hockey players over the years. More and more players have opted to take the route similar to that of Lowell Lock Monsters center Ryan Steeves, who embarked upon a tour of duty in the college ranks prior to turning pro, instead of the traditional Canadian route of major juniors.

The Ottawa native played four years at prestigious Yale University before making the jump to professional hockey. Ryan is now in his second season as a prospect for the Colorado Avalanche, and his first in Lowell.

“School’s always been really important to me,” says Steeves, whose parents placed the emphasis on education upon him from his youth. “I always worked really hard in school and took it to heart. It’s a lot like hockey was with me. I got to where I am now by working hard; neither really came natural to me.”

“When I was looking around with my parents, we went to a game at Clarkson University,” he says, recalling the decision-making process. “And I thought, ‘This is crazy!’ I couldn’t believe how loud it was; the fans were insane. And I just thought, it’s hockey and it’s school, this is great.”

And when that time came around to make the decision, it was easy for him. He signed on early with Yale, which is the third-oldest university in . One of two Ivy Leaguers currently on the Lock Monsters roster (the other is defenseman P.J. Martin, who went to Dartmouth), Ryan has a slightly different take on the combination of athletics and academics, having attended a school perhaps more known for churning out presidents of the United States than hockey players.

“In a sense, you’re overwhelmed by the people you’re surrounded by,” he says. “There are a large number of international students, and the class sizes were really small, which makes it easier to learn when all the professors know your name. The support systems there were incredible and they encourage you to take advantage of them. They really want you to seek out help when you need it, and to work in groups — study groups. That was a big help because the people around you are just brilliant.”

Ryan majored in political science while also taking a heavy pre-med course load. And while his skates were firmly planted on a course to the pros, one eye was always on that post-hockey career. “People figured because I was taking pre-med that I wanted to be a doctor, but I enjoyed the sciences and that was really why I did that. I’ve always been interested in law and that was where the political science came in. I figured if I did go on with school after I was done with hockey it would most likely be in law.”

It’s an interest he’s fostered during the off-season, working with a prominent criminal lawyer in Ottawa. Without skipping over corny comparisons between the courtroom and the hockey rink, Ryan is quick to point to the analogy. “I definitely see parallels,” he says without hesitation – almost excitement. “It’s criminal law, so your attitude has to be strong. You have to be able to speak well to a crowd and there’s a lot of one-on-one interaction. It can be a battle. When we’re in the courtroom, I can see the hockey player come out.”

Drafted following his sophomore season at Yale, his numbers promptly ballooned to collegiate career highs for his junior campaign. He raked in 15 goals and 38 points in 32 games that season, and put up 64 points in 63 games over his final two seasons. But Steeves says that despite being selected by the Avs with two years of eligibility remaining, the intention was always for him to finish his education, and then worry about hockey.

“It was never mentioned. Maybe they didn’t want me then,” he says, lightheartedly. “But they contacted my agent immediately after I graduated and I signed that summer. There was never any mention about me leaving early and I think they just expected that I would stay and finish.

“Playing pro was always a goal; always a dream of mine,” he says. “But I put myself in a position where, if I was playing hockey after college, it was a bonus. School was my priority.”

And he means it. Hence, the selection of Yale, instead of perhaps a more well-known hockey program.

“One of the things my father told me was, if you’re good enough, the scouts will find you. And that’s kind of how I looked at it.”

The scouts did find Ryan Steeves. But not before he found his priorities.