Behind the Bench
Alum Ryan Walter takes leadership to the ice
this fall with the Vancouver Canucks
A career that started in professional hockey has now come full circle for Ryan Walter, as he returns to his first love after 15 years. No, Walter is not attempting a comeback as a hockey player. This time he’s behind the bench, hired on June 17, 2008, to be an assistant coach with the Vancouver Canucks.
A graduate of the TWU Masters of Arts in Leadership program, Walter has been a visible leader in hockey for the better part of two decades. In his 15-year career he played for three teams in 1003 games, once winning the Stanley Cup as a member of the 1986 Montreal Canadiens.
Even in the early years of Walter’s hockey career, leadership was part of the equation. Drafted second overall by the Washington Captitals in 1978, he captained Team Canada in the World Junior Championships that same year. The captaincy is no small feat considering the team featured then 16-year-old phenomenon Wayne Gretzky.
Walter then made the Capitals, and was named captain in his second season with the team, at just 21 years of age. After four years in Washington, nine in Montreal that were highlighted by two trips to the Stanley Cup finals, the New Westminster native finished his career in Vancouver, playing two years with the Canucks before retiring in 1993.
Out of hockey for the first time since he was a young boy, Walter enrolled in the Master of Arts in Leadership at TWU. It was there that he found a new path for his life.
“I discovered that leadership is my passion,” he says. “I love all the elements that go with it, and learning about all the different aspects involved.”
While coaching and leadership do go hand-in-hand, the transition to being an NHL bench boss didn’t happen immediately. Since leaving the game, Walter has experienced success in small business, has written several books, worked in television, and has spoken at corporate functions on how companies and employees can be at their best.
Walter does see a parallel that aligns each of these ventures. “It’s all about people,” he says. “Nothing changes when you’re talking about people. Whether it’s families, businesses, teams, the principles (of leadership) apply when you’re dealing with people.”
His methods have proven true, but now Walter faces yet a different challenge. The NHL features an 82-game schedule packed with adversities both expected and unannounced. Lengthy travel schedules, trades, injuries, and losing streaks are all hazards that coaches attempt to navigate successfully.
“There are lots of challenges ahead,” Walter acknowledges. “We’re going to try and get the players through the ups and downs, through injuries, to get them ready and sturdy.”
One thing Walter knows for certain is that every NHL player wants to win the Stanley Cup. The trick is to discover how to motivate them to achieve the level of sacrifice that is necessary to succeed.
“My goal is to get to know the players,” Walter says enthusiastically of his new team. “Relationships are the key to finding out what people’s goals are, and at the end of the day, part of my job is to serve the players on the team.”
by Jon Adams ('08)
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