Uneasy Ryder

In the middle of a relatively unventful Flames training camp several years back, it seemed like an amusing story. A couple of the kids on the prospects roster hailed from Bonavista, a Newfoundland town of a few thousand souls best known for a mention in the Canadian version of This Land Is Your Land: This land is your land, This land is my land; From Bonavista, to Vancouver Island.

Besides, there’s something enjoyable about the sound of a Newfoundlander’s speech pattern and here was a chance to hear the accent in stereo.

The forward, Daniel Ryder, was the better known of the two youngsters at that time owing to his status as one of the better (and one of the few) offensively gifted prospects in the Flames system. The defenceman, Adam Pardy, was a late bloomer who had been drafted as a 20-year-old and seemed a longshot to ever reach the big club.

The exceedingly pleasant young men snickered and exchanged knowing glances when the airheaded reporter asked if the two knew each other very well despite their three-year age difference (Ryder was born in 1987; Pardy in 1984). It turned out that the duo had once played on the same team and that Pardy had even dated Ryder’s sister.

Pardy and Ryder talked about their hockey futures that day but also, when prompted, about the plight of their hometown which, like many Atlantic communities, had been ravaged by the decline of the fisheries. By virtue of their ability to slap aropund a frozen hunk of rubber, as the unimaginative story went, these two native sons — and Ryder in particular — had an opportunity to escape the grim economic reality of their hometown.

No one could know at that time how things would turn out. Pardy continued his late blooming and is now a more or less permanent fixture on the Flames blue-line corps. Ryder, meanwhile, is an alleged armed robber.

Still a few days shy of his 23rd birthday, Ryder’s young life serves as an example of something, although the precise description of that something remains elusive for many of us. There was all sorts of speculation about Ryder’s problems in 2007 when the young forward took a hike just six games (and five points) into his professional career with the Quad City Flames of the American Hockey League. Some of the rumours were fairly innocuous, others were much darker, but none were ever officially confirmed. The official party line was that Ryder simply didn’t have the desire to play hockey, with the lingering unanswered question being what exactly he prefered to be doing.

Whatever the explanation, the tale seemed to take a happy turn a year later when Ryder returned to the Flames. "It was too good an opportunity to pass up," said Ryder at the time about his comeback. Alas, the positive vibe didn’t last long. After being predictablty assigned to Quad Cities, Ryder was unpredictably shipped to Las Vegas of the ECHL. He played just four pointless games for the Wranglers before being sidelined either by illness or injury, nobody seems to be sure which. In any event, the story goes that on a day Ryder had been excused from practice because of the ailment, he bolted from the rink and went to a casino restaurant for lunch. Then came reports that Ryder had failed to rejoin the Wranglers after a Christmas break.

Bottom line, the parent Flames suspended Ryder for violation of team rules and refused to provide any other details. It was fairly obvious at that point the relationship between player and team was beyond repair and Ryder was eventually loaned to the Bruins organization, who employed his older brother Michael. Daniel was assigned to Providence in the AHL and managed to play 20 games, although he managed just one goal.

Now come the news reports that Ryder has been arrested and charged with armed robbery after a man whose face was partially covered entered a Bonavista convenience store, claimed he had a gun and demanded cigarettes. During a court appearance this week, Ryder’s legal aid lawyer raised questions about her client’s mental health and a psychiatric assessment has been ordered.

Ryder is hardly the only troubled young man in this country, but for better or worse, his story is perceived as being more sad, more tragic, more baffling and more senseless because he was once a big-time junior hockey star and a hotshot NHL prospect.

By all accounts, Ryder doesn’t fit the definition of a bad apple and perhaps that’s the saddest angle to this story. A year ago, when Ryder’s troubles in Vegas came to a head, a long-time acquaintance expressed beffudlement. "He’s a good kid and I like him," said Pardy at the time. As low as things seemed at the time, how could Pardy or almost anyone else guess what lay ahead for his former teammate?