Behind the Hawk: Ryan Daniels
It can be easily argued that Laurier men’s hockey goaltender sophomore Ryan Daniels was the best net-minder in Canadian University Hockey this season.
Among undisputed number ones in the country, the Pickering-native was among the nation’s best in save percentage, saves made and minutes played. His performance this season also earned Daniels the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) West player of the year award.
“I’ve been given every opportunity a goalie could ask for this year,” Daniels said.
“They have played pretty well in front of me for the most part this year; but the thing I can really attribute [my success this year] to is confidence from my coach, and going out there to do the best that I can.”
In the summer of 2006, however, Daniels had a very different future in mind than playing hockey for Laurier. After his dazzling third season in the Ontario Hockey League that saw him earn 38 wins and a solid save percentage of .907 in 60 games played for the Saginaw Spirit, the NHL came calling.
Daniels was selected in the fifth round, 151st overall by the Ottawa Senators (ahead of current Chicago Blackhawk Viktor Stalberg) and with the Senators desperate for goaltending talent at the time, it seemed like he had a chance to make it.
Yet after being cut without a contract by the Sens, and then two years later trying out and failing to stick with the Atlanta Thrashers, the 6-foot-2, and 215 pound backstop decided to take his chance to play in the CIS.
“I took it hard, and at the time I definitely saw it as a step in the wrong direction,” he commented. “That is just the competitor in me. I am enrolled in business here, and I have nothing bad to say about that program; but from a hockey sense I definitely saw it as a step back from where I wanted to be.”
“But we have [Laurier head coach] Greg [Puhalski] at the helm right now; he is giving me a chance to play every night and that’s all I could ask for,” Daniels continued. “Right now I’m extremely motivated.”
Like all student athletes, Daniels feels the weight of balancing school work and his sport, but he knows it was the decision.
“I’m glad I made that choice,” he recalled. “CIS hockey has become a lot better over the course of the last two years, especially from the influx of major junior talent coming into the league.”
Daniels, who took over the sole job of protecting the Golden Hawk net after long-time Laurier goaltender Jeff MacDougald graduated last season, looks specifically to three NHL all-star goaltenders for inspiration.
“You look at a guy like Carey Price who has mentally overcome much criticism in Montreal, and you look at a guy like Tim Thomas who has showed nothing but resilience to get to where he’s at. Then you look at [Roberto] Luongo who plays great in big games, and gives them a chance to win every night.”
At the training camps in Ottawa and Atlanta, Daniels was criticized for not having strong enough mental character to be a professional goaltender, and is out, like Price, to prove the critics wrong. Like Thomas, he was not seen as having enough technical ability to be an effective professional goaltender, and looks to be resilient for the Hawks going forward.
Though the Hawks’ season ended earlier than they would’ve liked on Sunday with a loss in the OUA West semi final, 2010-11 is certainly a year Daniels can be proud of, and will look to continue his success next season.