Walleye's Ryan knows cancer's impact

2/29/2012
BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
The Toledo Walleye's plan to raise awareness in the fight against breast cancer hits home for defenseman Joey Ryan. Ryan lost his aunt to breast cancer and his uncle to pancreatic cancer.
The Toledo Walleye's plan to raise awareness in the fight against breast cancer hits home for defenseman Joey Ryan. Ryan lost his aunt to breast cancer and his uncle to pancreatic cancer.

This weekend's special Pink in the Rink event at the Huntington Center is aimed at raising awareness about breast cancer, and it hits particularly close to home for Toledo defenseman Joey Ryan.


The Walleye organization will shine the spotlight on the disease at its games on Friday and Sunday. The ice will be painted pink, money will be raised, and fans will be educated about breast cancer.

ON THE HOOK

with Joey Ryan

Position: Defenseman

Jersey Number: 16

Ht./Wt: 6-1, 204

Hometown: Malden, Mass.

Born: October 19, 1987

Favorite way to spend time away from the rink: Spending time with wife Amanda and daughter Ava (2). I like to play with her and take her to the park. We like hanging out and watching movies.

Hockey player you admired growing up: Not too many. I never watched hockey. Still to this day I don't watch it. I like the Bruins. So I'd say Ray Bourque.

Favorite sport other than hockey: Baseball. I like the Red Sox and the Yankees. I hated when Boston traded Manny Ramirez. Overall deep down inside I like Boston.

Favorite type of music: R & B and hip hop

Favorite food: Italian

Have you ever eaten walleye?: No. I don't like seafood.

Favorite beverage: Gatorade

Best fast food: Taco Bell

Favorite Movie: The Town

Favorite TV Show: Sons of Anarchy

What is your pet peeve?: Bad drivers

Person you most admire: My father [Bob Ryan]. He's a fireman.

Favorite place you've been to?: Mexico

Top sports moment: winning the Memorial Cup.

What's your hockey superstition?: None. I just go with the flow.

Nickname: J.R.

What would you be doing if you weren't playing hockey?: I'd probably be a fireman. My brother Bobby just took the test.

Something nobody knows about you: I love tattoos and I have a lot of them. I have a coy fish on my arm. I have a leprechaun holding a hockey stick. I got my first one when I was 13.

Ryan, 24, lost his aunt to the pervasive disease nearly a year ago.

"She was my godmother. I was really close with her," Ryan said.

Ryan said his aunt's husband passed away from pancreatic cancer in December.

"It was a really tough time for our family," Ryan said. "It's not fun. My two cousins are 24 and 21 and they lost both parents in less than a year. It's very tough. You just have to stay strong. We know they are in a better place right now, and they're with each other."

Ryan said his parents Bob and Sharon will travel from his hometown of Malden, Mass., to Toledo for the event. Bob's sister Renie O'Brien succumbed to breast cancer on March 19, 2011.

"I'm excited to play on pink ice," Ryan said. "I will do whatever I can for breast cancer awareness. I feel privileged to be able to do this. I know she is looking down and sees what we're doing for her and the cause."

This is the third time the Pink in the Rink event will be held. It is sponsored this year by the ProMedica Cancer Institute and Komen for the Cure of Northwest Ohio. Information on the screening, treatment, and prevention of the disease will be available at the games.

Fans are encouraged to wear pink. Towels and pom-poms also will be given away.

Ann Kujawa, an associate vice president at the ProMedica Cancer Institute, said Friday's event will celebrate cancer survivors of all forms on the disease. On Sunday the focus will be on breast cancer awareness and education.

"When someone receives a diagnoses of cancer, it is a very traumatic period in their lives," Kujawa said. "They start on a journey of care. We want to celebrate where they are at. We're also addressing those that have completed treatment. Survivorship is recognition of the journey.

"We've been given this opportunity to do this over an entire weekend. You look at the importance of cancer awareness and survivorship, you can't say too much about either of them."

On Friday, Kujawa said abut 50 cancer survivors have been invited to attend.

On Sunday, physicians and staff members from the ProMedica Cancer Institute will be attendance. Educational booths will be set up.

Jill Johnson, a certified nurse practitioner with ProMedica, said cancer does not discriminate. Johnson said the Pink in the Rink events provide an avenue for education and recognition of the impact of the disease.

"It is a life changing event," Johnson said. "To get to the other side of it and to have beaten cancer is absolutely worth all the kudos that come their way. We also want to create an awareness. We want to make people know we do have programs available for them."

Along with Ryan, Walleye teammates Gleason Fournier and Bryan Rufenach also have had family member affected by breast cancer.

"The statistics say that one in eight will be affected by it. If you divide the 25 players on the roster by three, that is a living statistic right before us," Kujawa said.

Tickets for the games also will be available for a special discount. Tickets are $13 per game or $24 for both games. The contest against Wheeling on Friday is at 7 p.m. Sunday's game against Cincinnati is at 5:30 p.m. For more info go to toledowalleye.com.

"The individuals that are celebrating with us on Friday will step out on to the ice," Kujawa said. "It's a really unique event."

OUTBURST EXPLAINED: Ryan was at the center of coach Nick Vitucci's meltdown on the Walleye bench Saturday. Vitucci received a one game suspension for tossing water bottles, a stick, and clipboard on to the ice in protest of a non-call.

The tirade came moments after Ryan fought with Wheeling's Ryan Schnell. Vitucci claimed Schnell should have received an additional two minute penalty for instigating the fight.

Ryan, who was acquired from Elmira in a trade on Nov. 11, has 20 points this season. The stay-at-home defenseman has three goals and 17 assists.

Ryan admitted that prior to the fight he had crosschecked Wheeling captain Paul Crowder, and he suspected Schnell would retaliate.

"Their fighter came at me, slashed me, and then asked me to fight and I said, 'Yeah,'" Ryan said. "I expected it. When I was in penalty box [for crosschecking Crowder] I was ready. I don't blame him. He was protecting his captain. But he should have gotten the two minute penalty."

Ryan was kicked out of the game and did not see Vitucci's ensuing rant.

"I appreciate it a lot from the coach," Ryan said. "He had my back there. We were losing and all the that frustration added up. That definitely fired us up for Sunday."

The Walleye earned two points with a 5-4 win over Cincinnati on Sunday. The victory snapped a three-game losing streak.

With just 17 games left in the season, Toledo (24-27-4) is eight points out of the final playoff spot.

The Walleye play Chicago on Wednesday night.

"It was a tough weekend," Ryan said. "Every game is a must win now. But there is confidence."

Ryan grew up in Malden, Mass., which is five miles away from Boston. Ryan, who left home at age 15 to pursue a career in junior hockey, still speaks with a New England accent.

He said he excelled as a catcher and pitcher in baseball, but decided to pursue hockey.

He helped lead the Quebec Ramparts to a Memorial Cup title in 2006.

"That was unbelievable. It was the best time of my life," he said.

Ryan also was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the second round of the NHL draft that year.

"The draft was in Vancouver and my whole family went," he said.

Ryan went pro in 2008-09 and has played in 44 games in the American Hockey League. In the ECHL he has played for Cincinnati, Reading, Elmira, and now Toledo.

"I've really enjoyed myself here," he said. "The rink is unbelievable. The coaching staff is awesome. We have a great fan base, and we get good crowds."

Contact Mark Monroe at: mmonroe@theblade.com, 419-724-6354, or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.