Playing the Dub down south

Ryan Gagnon moves south to pursue a career in hockey.

Ryan Gagnon last year playing for the Cariboo Cougars.

Ryan Gagnon comes from a long line of hockey players, so that his rise through the ranks of leagues looks like the culmination of more than just the hours of hard work he has put in, but also of a family legacy. His dad played for the Quesnel Millionaires back in the day and he has a posse of cousins and other family spread out playing hockey across Canada and the U.S. Now, the six-foot, 165 pound defenceman is in Victoria finishing weeks of try outs for the WHL’s Victoria Royals. After two weeks of a combined attack of school starting and try outs, Gagnon is on the verge of playing his first regular season WHL game. “I’m just ready for it to start. I’m pretty excited,” he said. Gagnon moved up through the peewee and midget leagues here in Quesnel, playing with the Thunder until the 2010/11 season before moving to Prince George to play with the Cariboo Cougars last year. Gagnon had been working his way through try outs for nearly a month, making sure to impress the coaches everyday and then school began for the 16-year-old. Being sandwiched between the two is not always easy. “It’s been a long grind,” he said. The grind has kept him busy, with most days being filled by the triumvirate of school, working out and practicing. Though he says he’s more tired than he thought he would be, Gagnon has his schedule under control. Road trips, however, are difficult, he said. When he gets back he needs to keep up the training and working out, and also work harder at his school to make up for time lost. The grind, perhaps, leaves no room for nervousness, a trait Gagnon says he doesn’t feel coming up to the beginning of the regular season. With a few exhibition games under his belt, Gagnon seems to have found his feet under him. Even playing the Prince George Cougars, a team he remembers watching when he was young, brings no jitters to Gagnon. “I think it’ll be cool, knowing that’s what I’m playing now,” he said of the prospect of playing the Cougars he watched as a kid, hoping someday he would be at that level. So while he’s got his game figured out, moving out while still in his mid-teens is not simple, though he’s had practice. “It’s a bit different playing so far from home, but I played in P.G. last year so it’s kinda the same thing,” he said. One of the differences he particularly likes is the warmer weather. He stays with a billet in Victoria, which lightens his house-keeping load, easing the transition from home to making his own way in the world. But home isn’t just parents to clean up after you and make sure you eat healthy food. It’s more than being taken care of, the distance and work load does keep him from the family that stoked his passion for the game. “I miss my friends, my parents and my family. I haven’t seen them in a while,” he said He is, in some ways, growing closer to that family by following the family passion. With cousins playing in the BCJHL, on college teams and for the Winnipeg Jets, his family members are more than just fans of the game. That passion hits closer to home as well; the Gagnon family has been a big part of Quesnel’s erstwhile team, the Millionaires. “All our family was on the Millionaires for 30 years,” his father, Réné Gagnon said. Réné is proud of his son for the work he’s put in to get to where he is today. “He’s worked his way there and it takes a lot of heart to get there from a small community like Quesnel.” Though Réné says Ryan has moved beyond the point of taking any tips from the elder Gagnons, Ryan soaked up the knowledge that was made available to him from the array of sources when he was still young. “Growing up he listened and learned from a lot of people,” Réné said. Back up north in the Cariboo, Brian Kozak, one of Gagnon’s trainers during the summer months, is proud to see his trainee make the WHL. Kozak has been training Gagnon here for three years at the Next Level training facility. Gagnon, Kozak said, is both a natural talent and a hard, smart worker. “He’s got great genetics. He’s from the Gagnon family,” he said. “He’s a complete player and he trains like a pro. What I mean by that is: there’s no complaints; the harder it is the better it is; he listens to everything and he has the intelligence to try it and then tell you ‘hey coach that didn’t work’ or ‘that was awesome’.” While the people he is connected to in Quesnel watch Ryan put in the effort to make sure he can go as far as he is able, Ryan is ready to put in the work. This season he plans to, “just play as much as I can and improve on all my skills.”

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