Ryan Graves had much in common with the kids who took part in his hockey school in Yarmouth.
He grew up playing minor hockey here. He says the hockey school was a fun week. And, like the kids, he too is preparing for an upcoming season of hockey – albeit with a huge notable difference.
Graves will be attending training camp with the Colorado Avalanche, looking to secure a spot for the 2019-2020 season. The defenseman recently signed another one-year contract with the club, with which he played 26 NHL games last season, scoring three goals and notching two assists.
Graves knows camp won’t be easy.
“There is going to be no position given, everything is going to be earned,” he says. “There’s spots there for grabs but there are also a lot of guys coming in and competing for them. I’m fully prepared for that…I’m going to give myself the best opportunity to do my best.”
This involves intensive training over the summer. August will be especially busy. He’s going back to Charlottetown – where he first played in the QMJHL – to continue his daily training.
When Graves is asked to describe the past season playing in the NHL, he chooses the word unbelievable.
“Playing the first game was an unbelievable experience. Scoring the first goal was an unbelievable experience. I had family at my first game. I’ve had some family stop in along the way and see me play. It’s been an awesome experience and it’s something I’m going to work at to make sure it continues.”
Aside from the Avs coaching staff, Graves struck a chord with the fanbase. On social media people often said they wanted to see more ‘Gravy,’ – Graves’ nickname that followed him to Colorado.
Asked what he thinks stuck most, Graves, ever modest, says, “I’m not sure. I just go there and try to do my best and play my own game. I’m thankful for the opportunity I’ve been given. I hope to play more games on a more consistent basis…The team is on the upswing and they’re going to be good, so I want to be part of that.”
He refers to Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog line as amongst the best in the league. He and MacKinnon, from Cole Harbour, N.S., played together on spring and provincial hockey teams. But this was a big step up when it came to playing with his former teammate.
While the Avs struggled at times, Colorado had an impressive end-of-season run, from not knowing if it would grab a wildcard spot to making the playoffs and eliminating the Calgary Flames in five games in Round 1 and pushing Round 2 of the playoffs with the San Hose Sharks to a Game 7 before Colorado’s season ended. Graves was a healthy scratch during the playoffs.
Understandable? Yes, as well, he says.
“It’s competitive nature to want to play so it’s tough to sit on the sidelines. But you also have to stand back and understand the situation. There are guys that have 300 NHL games that are playing over you and there’s some guys that come in that are going to be future Norris trophy candidates. You have to understand that and realize that it’s all part of the process and that you’ve just got to be patient and wait for your time. When you get your opportunity, you’ve got to do your best.”
Doing their best is what Graves hoped rubbed off on the youth who took part in his hockey school July 15-19 at the Yarmouth Mariners Centre. But he also wanted the hockey school to be about more than just skills and drills for the kids.
“They might not remember any of the drills, but hopefully they’re remember the experience,” Graves says. “(Growing up) I can remember myself coming to the Jody Shelley hockey school. I remember meeting Jody and it was a fun week and it was a positive experience.”
Based on the reviews, Graves achieved his goal.
“I liked the camp a lot,” said Sawyer Christianson, who played Atom AA last season. “I liked the camp because we did drills that gave you energy and stuff on the ice. And I learned a lot from Ryan.”
“My favourite part of the week was the first day, getting to see Ryan,” said Kyle Moore who plays at the bantam level. "My favourite thing was trying new drills that are harder and make you better. And Ryan is a fun guy.”
“I thought it was fun and it’s a good experience because you get to learn a lot,” said Brody Goodwin, who moves into peewee this season. “I learned more offensive stuff. It was a good camp.”
Graves was helped out at his hockey school by friends and players Allie Munroe, Tyler Smith and John Murphy.
(Allie Munroe is heading to Sweden to play pro hockey. Read about that here.)
Graves knows that traveling to week-long hockey schools in other parts of the province or outside of Nova Scotia can be costly for families. Offering a hockey school in his hometown is something he had wanted to do for years.
“It’s nice for kids to meet someone who has been able to take the journey from minor hockey in Yarmouth to playing games in the NHL,” Graves says. “But more than anything, I just wanted it to be a fun week because realistically, not everyone is going to play pro hockey and that’s not what this is all about.”
Graves points to the bigger picture. Sports goes beyond being an athlete, it’s also about being the best person you can be, making friends, having fun and, if you get the chance, making the best of the opportunities that come your way.
No matter where you land, at the end of the day Graves says hopefully you’ll look back on your experiences and say, “That was a lot of fun.”
FROM THE PAST HOCKEY SEASON: