“I love the playoffs,” Ryan Walter enthused. “It’s my favourite time of year.”
Walter is in his first year as an assistant coach with the Vancouver Canucks, but he has been involved in professional hockey for 30 years.
The B.C.-born athlete spent four years playing in Washington, DC before making the playoffs for 11 straight years with Montreal and Vancouver. Playing as centre for the Canadiens, he helped them win the Stanley Cup in 1986.
There is a “new intensity” in the playoffs, Walter said, “and it comes from an interesting place – a feeling that the end is near.”
Walter’s main responsibilities with the Canucks are offence, faceoffs and the power play. “It’s very technical and focused now. … It’s pretty intense, and I really enjoy that.”
One of the leadership principles Walter has learned is that “as things get more hectic, leaders get more calm.”
While overtime can be stressful, he said, “There’s not a lot of time to be nervous. You’re so busy thinking about strategy, looking to create solutions and adjust to the other team. The fans are probably more nervous than anyone on the bench.”
Being a Christian in hockey has not been particularly difficult for Walter. “If you bring your best to the job, you are accepted.”
The more important issue, he said, is living your faith on the job — “but that is also difficult for doctors and lawyers and people in any other job or profession.”
One thing that has helped Walter and his family is their home church, Peace Portal Alliance.
The people there are very supportive and passionate about hockey, but also “give us lots of room to enjoy Sunday morning worship.”
Christians have not been as visible in hockey as in football, basketball and baseball, where there have been team chapels for a long time. But almost all junior hockey teams now have a chaplain, and a number of professional teams do, as well.
The very difficult issues are not the pressures to win hockey games, Walter said, but the “life incidents” that everyone has to deal with, “whether you’re playing with the Vancouver Canucks or in a corporate boardroom.”
For instance, in the past year, the Canucks have had to deal with the death of player Luc Bourdon and the recent death of Taylor Pyatt’s fiance.
Walter and his wife get a chance to pray for people in such situations, and to “counsel when we can.” As a coach, he has to be careful not to abuse his position to force his faith on others; but, he said, “management has been very good in leaving it up to me to find the right balance.”
It was a number of ‘life incidents’ that happened to Walter and some of his friends which got him “searching for answers about eternity, life and meaning” in his 20s. His life, he said, took a “new direction” when fellow player Jean Pronovost challenged him to read the New Testament.
After the Canucks swept St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs, Walter said he is “looking forward to our next opponent.”
He is also looking forward to the Hockey Ministries International hockey camp he and player Darcy Hordichuk are running this summer in Vancouver.
This is a first for the city, but not the first time Walter has been involved in such camps.
”We will see many young boys and girls come into the kingdom during that week,” he said.
Walter’s website is ryanwalter.com.