Being told you’re not good enough to make a team, or that a team doesn’t want you, can leave a sour taste in your mouth. That resentment can sting even more when that chance represented the last opportunity you had at continuing to play hockey.
For Ryan Lawson, that was exactly the predicament he found himself in at the start of the 2013 season after being cut by his hometown Kelowna Chiefs Junior B team in the last week of August at the final cut of training camp.
“It was weird,” he said. “I was the last guy to get cut and I thought I was done.”
Born in April 1995, Kelowna was all Lawson knew. He grew up there. He watched the Vancouver Canucks with his father there and formed a love for street and ice hockey there.
Starting at the age of seven, he began working his way through the minor hockey system in Kelowna, ending up on the Tier 1 Midget Kelowna Rockets team that won a provincial championship in 2012-13. It was then, he said, that he realized there may be an opportunity for him to play hockey beyond the minor hockey system.
That thought, or dream, took a serious hit in that final week of August when he found out he would not be a part of the 2013-14 Chiefs.
“I didn’t really know what to do because I’ve always had hockey and the prospect of not having it was kind of scary so it was a tough kind of two weeks,” he said.
Sitting at home those first two weeks of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) season, Lawson hoped his hockey career wasn’t over. Luckily, his midget Rockets’ coach called Ross Bidinger, the GM of the Columbia Valley Rockies, and earned Lawson a tryout with the team.
Before he knew it, Ryan Lawson was on his way to Invermere to become a member of the Rockies organization.
“It all happened so fast I didn’t really have time to realize where Invermere was or where I was going, it kind of just happened,” he said.
Working his way onto the team as a depth-player, playing on the third and fourth lines with the team, Lawson struggled in his rookie season with a nagging shoulder injury he suffered while playing rugby and recorded six points in 24 games played.
After having surgery in the off-season to repair his shoulder, Lawson showed his true potential the following season, recording 22 points in 24 games. Despite his success, the Rockies laboured through the season and eventually traded Lawson and a string of other players at the trade deadline to help retool for the next season.
Fortunately for Lawson, his new home was in fact his real home as he landed in a Kelowna Chiefs uniform barely a season removed from being cut.
“That was weird because the same coaching staff that I came back to (were who) cut me the year before and then they trade for me the year after,” he said.
“It was different (than) in the Columbia Valley (where) everyone is so invested in the program, that small community (atmosphere) — you can’t match that in a city like Kelowna.”
After finishing his career in the KIJHL last season, Lawson heard from his friend and Rockies player Doan Smith about the possibility of continuing his hockey career the following season in Europe. While he had originally thought of going to school after his junior career ended, this was an opportunity he said he couldn’t pass up.
“I’m excited about the whole thing and getting to play hockey after junior is not an opportunity that many people get so just being able to do that, you just have to take it,” he said. “I still love playing hockey and love training to play hockey and the atmosphere that goes with both those things. I can’t really picture my life without either of them.”
Having just flown out to Sweden with his new teammates Damon Raven and Smith, Lawson is preparing for a new experience on a new team in a completely foreign country. He said this year will represent a learning experience preparing him for what his hockey future has in store.
“We’re still going to a different continent so there’s going to be an adjustment period but we’re just going to look at how this year goes and if it’s a good year and I still feel like I want to play hockey, I’ll keep playing and if not, I may as well get started on real life,” he said.