by Warren Rappleyea
Now in his second year as an Ottawa Junior Senators assistant coach, Ryan Hand brings the perspective of a hard-working character-type player, who managed to play in more than 367 games as a professional across 11 seasons.
When he tried out for the for the QMJHL’s Baie-Comeau Drakkar as an under-sized 17-year-old, no one expected Hand to make the squad. He wasn’t even sure himself, but he vowed to go down swinging—often with his fists. At the end of training camp the coach informed Hand’s father that he could not cut the youngster.
“As a player I wasn’t naturally gifted,” the Ottawa native said. “I knew I had to go and do all the little things and most of all, the things no one likes to do, like taking a hit to make a play. I just wanted to play and I wanted to win.
That succinctly describes the Junior Senators philosophy. Ottawa has become a powerhouse in the Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL)—winning three successive Bogart Page Cups—by filling its roster with 200-foot players.
“That’s exactly what I want out of our players,” said Hand, who played defense himself. “I want them to develop character and confidence. The guys are starting to get to know my personality and they’re responding. I’m proud of them because they’re determined to keep the puck out of the net. I took great pride in that as a player.”
As the team’s skills coach, Hand works on the obvious things, such as shooting, puck control, passing, positional play and skating. The former pro also incorporates what he calls “tips and tricks” that he learned from various coaches throughout his career to help Junior Sens players improve, become cohesive and adapt to plays as they develop.
A self-described “hockey guy,” he started his own business, Hand Made Hockey, so he could teach the game to young players. This provides Hand with the chance to work with players from age four and up through junior—and beyond in some cases. The business, which has a great logo, enables Hand to spend even more time working the game he loves.
“I really do love teaching the game and there’s a sense of satisfaction when I see things click with a young player,” he explained. “I try to make it fun. It’s a great feeling to work with a little kid who can’t lift the puck and then you see him do it the first time. It’s the same with the Junior Senators. When a player suddenly picks up something that you’re teaching them.”
Hand and his wife, Teresa, a youth counselor, live in Orleans with their two sons: Maverick, 5, and Mason, 1. He credits Teresa with encouraging him to coach and develop his business. “She’s been awesome about it,” he said. “She knows what I do and she supports me and helps out.”
Following his professional career, which saw him play a season in England and win the Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey title with Thetford Mines in 2015, Hand turned to coaching.
He spent two seasons as an assistant with the Hawkesbury Hawks and a year with the EOJHL’s Alexandria Glens, before joining OJS last season. He also serves as the skills coach for Carleton University.
Coming into the season, Hand acknowledged that there was some concern about getting the team to gel with an influx of new players.
“I wasn’t surprised at all,” Hand said after OJS opened the season by winning six of its first seven games. “From the top of the organization down through the coaching staff it’s all about preparation. Mac [Head Coach Kyle Makaric] and [Assistant] Stuart [Battrick] had the team ready … and it showed.”
It’s safe to say Hand played a key role as well. “I want to get the best out of our players,” said Hand, who handles the defense and is also the Junior Sens skills instructor.