YARMOUTH,N.S. - It was the call Ryan Graves of Yarmouth had been waiting years for, but had dreamed about for most of his life.
And had worked hard to achieve.
Graves, 23, made his NHL debut on Dec. 27 wearing #27 for the Colorado Avalanche in a league game versus the Vegas Golden Knights – an opposing team that didn’t even exist when Graves was drafted in the fourth round by the New York Rangers in 2013.
In a post-game interview with reporters, Graves was asked what it was like to be called up from the Avalanche’s affiliate Colorado Eagles to play in his first official NHL game.
“It was pretty surreal,” he said. “I was pretty excited. I’ve been waiting for that call for a few years now.”
Graves was acquired by the Avalanche franchise in a trade during the 2017-2018 season. He had done pre-season NHL exhibition play with the Rangers, and also with the Avalanche (scoring a pre-season goal with both teams) but had never gotten the chance to suit up for an official game.
Asked last summer – as he prepared for the hockey season ahead – if he was discouraged he hadn’t yet gotten to prove himself on an NHL roster, Graves had said, “basically you can’t look back, you just have to look forward and I’m hoping I get an opportunity in Colorado. And if and when I get that opportunity I’ll make the best of it.”
Which is what he did on Dec. 27. The 6-foot-5, 225-lb defenceman had two shots on net, as well as a hit and a block, during his 8:26 of ice time in the game in which the Knights edged the Avalanche 2-1. He told reporters afterwards he was happy with his performance.
NOTE TO READERS: Ryan Graves is also included on the roster for the Colorado Avalanche's Dec. 29 game versus the Chicago Blackhawks
In the stands watching his first NHL game on Dec. 27 were his father Ron Graves, mother Monica Brennan and Ryan’s girlfriend Clare Casey who had all boarded three separate flights on short notice to be there to watch his debut in person. Monica had landed in Halifax after spending Christmas with Ryan in Colorado when she found out he had been recalled by the Avalanche and would be playing his first NHL game.
In Las Vegas Brennan didn’t get a chance to talk with her son prior to the game and she also only found after landing in Las Vegas that he gotten a gash to his arm during the morning skate. But he was determined to play. He told reporters the doctors had stitched him up that afternoon.
“He played a great game,” his mother said. “We are very, very happy for him."
Ryan’s dad Ron also used the word ‘surreal’ to describe the experience.
“You just wanted him to do well and not make any mistakes and just play to the best of his abilities, which he did,” he said.
“He looked like he blended into the team very, very well.”
Ryan told reporters he did have pre-game jitters, but said in his post-game interview that his coaches and the Avalanche players had told him to just go out, keep it simple and play his game, which he did.
Meanwhile, the amount of support extended to Graves and his family – through texts, phone calls, and messages through Facebook and Twitter – was huge from friends, family, past teams and past teammates, but the support was particularly strong from his hometown of Yarmouth.
Adam Churchill was one of Graves’ minor hockey coaches in Yarmouth for six years. At the time Graves was drafted to the NHL in 2013 Churchill recalled going to a bantam AAA tournament where Graves had been named the top defensemen out of 24 teams. He described him then as a big kid who “had a pro-like shot at the age of 14.” (Incidentally, Graves won the AHL all-star hardest shot competition in 2016 with a 103.4 MPH shot that would have placed him in third place had he made the same shot at the 2016 NHL all-star competition.)
The day after Graves’ NHL debut, Churchill summed up what a lot of people were feeling.
“It was exciting to see him get to play a game in the NHL,” he said, saying he had sent Graves a text wishing him the best and telling him to make the most of this opportunity.
“I know he has worked extremely hard to get the chance to play and hopefully he will have more opportunities to stay up with the Avalanche,” he said.
Former NHLer Jody Shelley – who moved to Yarmouth as a teenager and has always referred to Yarmouth as his hometown – also sent out congratulations to Graves. Remembering his own first NHL game, he told the Tri-County Vanguard he was really happy for Graves.
“I was excited for him, and I was excited for his family and then I was excited for the people in Yarmouth, I see how proud they are of him,” he said, noting when Ryan participates in Shelley’s annual Golf Fore Health tournament, which has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase hospital equipment for the Yarmouth hospital, everyone talks about how proud they are of Graves, of his work ethic and of his successes throughout his hockey career.
“This is like watching a kid’s dream come true,” Shelley said. “It’s a special thing having a community behind you.”
Graves’ father Ron said he was receiving so many messages prior to the game that he had to add more data on his phone within half an hour of arriving in Las Vegas.
“It’s just great to see the people of Yarmouth supporting Ryan, he truly appreciates it. And us as parents we appreciate it all,” he said, adding Ryan’s family hopes his experience serves as encouragement to other young people.
“We just want kids to know that if you work hard and you really believe in yourself, and your parents can support you in whatever way they can, that it is possible. Because we’re in Yarmouth it’s not a limitation. I think Ryan is an example of that,” he said.
“I would encourage kids to just believe in themselves and dedicate themselves to the hard work it takes. It can happen if they really want it to. It doesn’t matter what the dream is. For us it was hockey, it could be something different for someone else.”
As for Ryan Graves, he was ever humble after his NHL debut. Although the Avalanche didn't win the game he told reporters, “it’s been a good experience and I’m very grateful for it.”
MORE GRAVY: READ MORE ABOUT RYAN GRAVES AND HIS ROAD TO THE NHL: