Name: Ryan Lannon
Hometown: Grafton, Massachusetts
Professional playing experience: American Hockey League, Europe
Remember when you were a kid you had a dream of what you wanted to be when you grew up? Like most people who play a professional sport, I was hooked by hockey almost at birth. Unlike many people I was blessed with amazing parents that afforded me the opportunity, support, and sacrifice to help make this dream come true. My dad was a local coach in Massachusetts for the Grafton-Wachusett Lakers and by default when coach’s wife had a baby I got sticks and pucks as Christening presents. 34 years later I skate better than 99.9% of the world’s population (not including Canada) and I think that’s pretty cool.
I played goalie in roller hockey, forward in youth hockey, and by college I was a proud defenseman for the Harvard University Crimson. In the summer of 2002 I was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins, played professionally for 8 seasons, then hit my head and retired for 4. In that time, I’ve coached 11 year olds in Salzburg at the Red Bull Hockey Academy and taught 6 year olds learn to skate in Hong Kong. I’ve apprenticed under NHL skating coaches and practiced in full gear with 10 year olds. I think I needed a break from the politics of the pro game and coaching youth hockey reminded me what it was like to play with a smile. Despite my best efforts to move on to another sport (driving around the US with an RV and a surfboard) I’ve come to accept that hockey is going to be a part of my life forever in some fashion or another. Having a little time to reset has allowed me to begin playing the games on my terms again, and I think to some degree this return has been a long time coming, even if I partially fooled myself into thinking it was a sporadic affair. I think my comeback started when I realized how much more I liked playing than coaching!
I told countless people my retirement was sudden which in hindsight was probably a lie. Really, I think my retirement really started around 2010, after struggling to push past an AHL plateau and a coach that I wasn’t mentally strong enough to tune out at the time. Nonetheless in 2013 the NHL was locked out so in my 3rd game back from ACL reconstruction in Finland 8 months earlier I lost my two front teeth in a violent collision with the dasher wall in an Austria ice arena. While brushing my braces at 30 years old I realized I wasn’t invincible and I wasn’t Ray Bourque, and it seemed as good a time as any to walk away.
I signed a contract that spring but had an idea on the beach that wanted to turn into a business. I liked my teeth in my mouth and I was intrigued by the mystery of what life was like away from the rink. I called my parents, my agent, and the GM in Finland in that order.
“Kimmo, can we cancel my contract? I’m done,” I said through a Skype call. “You’re paying me to be in the gym doing squats, instead I’m at the beach reading business startup books, and I don’t feel like leaving.”
I will continue to pursue my entrepreneurial ideas, but now I understand the same principles that afforded me success in sport will be the maxims that bring about business success. The harder you work, the more committed you are, the more success you will have in whatever it is you do. If hockey isn't your thing and it helps you to follow along substitute whatever your "THING" is. It could be knitting or yoga, cooking, reading, running or music. Your passion. Your pride. That thing you would do if money didn't matter. The real beauty is it doesn't have to be just one thing. You can combine any and all passions to suit your needs and with the right attitude, good friends, and a little love along the way I truly believe in my heart that anything is possible.
Hockey is life and life is hockey. Like most things zen, it's as obvious to state as it is difficult to grasp. I’ve never had more fun on or off the ice than I have these last few months and in less than 2 weeks I’ll be going to my first professional hockey training camp in 5 years. I'm currently writing you from a Starbucks in Wilkes-Barre, PA living in a van with my dog as I skate with the WB-Scranton Penguins AHL team to get in shape for my ECHL debut October 1, 2017. I decided I want to be in the best shape of my life by my 35th birthday in December, and skating for a few months can’t hurt. I might end up back in Europe by mid-season, I might realize I’m way too old for this shit after a couple weeks.
Either way I plan to be sweating with a smile on my face wherever this adventure ends up...
Thanks for reading!