Freshman centerman Ben Ryan is playing some of his best hockey of the season right now and his University of Notre Dame team has reaped the benefits. Where the Nashville Predators prospect has really made his mark this post-season has been in setting up his teammates. Coming into the Frozen Four, Ryan has posted 26 points (ten goals, 16 assists), which leads all Notre Dame rookies. His most memorable game of the season came back on Jan. 25 when he posted a pair of power-play goals and added an assist to guide Notre Dame to a 4-2 win over Bowling Green.
Hockey’s Future spoke with Ryan after practice on Wednesday at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
HF: It’s the very first time here for both you and your team, so how does it feel to be here?
BR: It’s good. It’s really exciting. I guess when I first committed here I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. I knew that we would have a good team eventually, but the fact that it has happened in my freshman year is really exciting.
HF: You’re one of a number of great freshmen that came to Notre Dame this season. How has the adjustment been for you personally?
BR: I guess for us freshmen, school is obviously tough. It’s just so hard to keep your academics up when you’re missing so much of school coming to stuff like this where you know that you’re leaving on say a Tuesday and you’re missing a whole week of school. I think that was the biggest adjustment for me. From a hockey standpoint, I’d say the fact that the players are bigger and stronger. That’s the main thing. A lot of kids come out of the USHL and that’s a great league, but we also have some players who’ve come out of the USA program (US National Team Development Program) as well, and everyone’s played at a high level. But for me, I’d have to say that the adjustment has been mainly the strength because the players here (in college hockey) are so much older, and bigger and stronger.
HF: In following you specifically throughout the course of the season, it seems like your game is coming together at the right time. But you’ve been contributing to the team more than just on the score sheet by doing all of the little things. Can you describe what your role on the team has been?
BR: I went through a slump there in the middle of the season, and I kind of re-evaluated on how I was playing. I kind of focused on doing the little things that I can control, like playing defensively and winning faceoffs. I’ve worked on starting and stopping, and I think that’s kind of turned into offense because I’ve been disciplined on the defensive side of the ice and it’s given me a chance to get more offense going.
HF: You were drafted by the Nashville Predators, so what was like when you found out that they had selected you?
BR: The NHL drafts you when you’re so young, so that’s not something that you can really worry about. It was really exciting, something that I’ll never forget and a great experience, but I’m a ways away from playing pro hockey. It’s not really something in my near future, so it’s not something that I’m entirely focused on right now.
HF: Have you been to their prospects camp?
BR: Yeah, I went last year after I was drafted and I’m sure I’ll go again this summer to go down and see and get to know everyone. That’s really all I do. The draft doesn’t really mean all that much to me right now because when they’re ready to sign you some day, they’ll have your rights and then you’ll have to decide to sign then.
HF: Obviously you guys are here to try and win a national championship, but aside from that are there any goals that you personally as well as the team collectively want to try and accomplish before the season does end?
BR: This is our first time here, so that’s something in and of itself right there. Obviously we want to win. That’s been our goal all year is to win it. I guess we’re a team that likes to keep things simple, you know. We like to let other teams come to us and we’re definitely a transition team. We’re not all that fast or skilled, but we play a good system. I think we figure that if we stay disciplined within our system, then that’s how we’ll keep up with other teams and that’s how we’re going to win games.
HF: How would you describe yourself as a player?
BR: Well, I definitely am a two-way center. I can contribute offensively, score goals and make plays, but if I’m going to get to the next level and play at a higher level and play my best, I’ve got to be able to do things at both ends of the ice. I need to win faceoffs, be good defensively and beat other players down low for the possession of the puck.
HF: You play for a wonderful coach in Jeff Jackson at Notre Dame. What are some of the things that he has taught you that have made you a better player?
BR: He just emphasizes keeping a level head and keeping things in perspective. I think that’s why we’ve been able to do so well and why we were able to win the (West) regional. We lost a couple of games going in, but he kind of helps us focus on taking everything one game at a time and one step at a time. I think that has helped me personally, not just in hockey but in school and in life as well.