Tuesday, September 13, 2011

NHL Alumni Interview with Ryan Walter

Whether playing in the NHL, working in the business world or taking on the day-to-day challenges that present themselves, life often tests us with obstacles that must be faced head on and overcome. Through his books, speaking engagements and training seminars, NHL Alumni member Ryan Walter is helping others discover their own leadership potential by sharing the knowledge that made him a success, both on and off the ice.

Selected by the Washington Capitals in the first round (2nd overall) in the 1978 Draft, Walter made his NHL debut during the 1978-79 season and had an immediate impact; scoring 28 goals in his rookie season. The leadership qualities that would help him during his career and throughout his life after hockey were apparent right from the start of his career, as he became the youngest captain in the history of the Capitals franchise in his sophomore season. Ryan wore the “C” in Washington until a blockbuster trade sent himself and teammate Rick Green to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Rod Langway, Doug Jarvis, Craig Laughlin and Brian Engblom in 1982.

Ryan Walter would finish his career having played 1,003 games over 15 seasons in the league with Washington, Montreal and Vancouver. He retired from hockey after two seasons with his hometown Canucks at the end of the 1992-93 season, but he is best remembered for his time in Montreal wearing the celebrated Bleu, Blanc et Rouge. It was while wearing that legendary jersey that he made two trips to the Stanley Cup Final with the Canadians - winning the Cup in 1986 against the Calgary Flames.

“My wife Jenn and I were in Montreal with the Canadians for nine seasons and we loved it,” Walter recalled. “That first training camp was pretty pressure packed, in that there was a lot of pressure on Rick Green and myself to perform at a high level. I think in 1986, when we finally won the Stanley Cup, some of that pressure came off.”

“It was an awesome experience - it was the days of the Montreal Forum and the ghosts of the Forum. You would look up at the faces of the former players before the games and there was something pretty amazing about the stare in their eyes or whatever it was, but I really loved my time in Montreal.”

“It was wonderful to play my last two years with the Canucks and being from Burnaby, British Columbia - to be able to come home was really great. When I look at my career, to start in Washington, to win and lose a Stanley Cup in Montreal and then finish off in Vancouver, it is almost too good to be true!”

The Stanley Cup victory in 1986 interrupted what could very well have been five in a row for the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers were a powerhouse in the league at that time, a dynasty in the making, but Calgary defeated Edmonton that year in a hard-fought seven game series in the divisional round. With the storied history of the Canadians organization and the emergence in the eighties of the new kids on the block from Edmonton, I was curious - would Ryan have rather tested himself against the Oilers in 1986?

“For us, I don’t think it would have mattered who the opponent was,” reminisced Walter. “Edmonton was a real good team at that point, but Calgary had a very deep team, so we always looked forward to playing both of them. During the year, Edmonton beat us and we beat them, so it was a good rivalry. It would have been good to play them in the playoffs, but we got onto such a roll that year. I’m not going to say the stars aligned, but the guys really pulled together. We were hungry and I’m not so sure it would have mattered which team we played that year.”

Walter described his life after hockey as an interesting evolution. Working as a broadcaster for many years, he went on to become an assistant coach with Alain Vigneault and the Canucks for two seasons (2008-2010) and then Head Coach for Canada’s National Women’s team for the 2010 Four Nations Cup and the 2011 World Championship. Throughout it all, he also worked as a keynote speaker and returned to school to obtain his Master of Arts Degree in Leadership/Business. His schooling solidified the training element of his speaking engagements; helping companies, their sales teams and executives, enhance their leadership capabilities.

“I am a guy that loves leadership,” Ryan said. “I was pushed into a leadership position early on and now that I have studied leadership and continue to learn about leadership, I love teaching others what I have learnt. How can we grow leadership in each other? Over 15 NHL seasons, most of it in Montreal, I was on the leadership team or part of it, and had a chance to watch some of the greatest leaders in the world - Bob Gainey, Serge Savard and Larry Robinson, people like that.”

Along with his speaking engagements and seminars, Ryan has become an accomplished author and is celebrating the release of his fifth book, Hungry! Fuelling Your Best Game. In several of his previous books, he shares the knowledge that he has accumulated from a lifetime in hockey, offering coaching and teaching techniques as well as stories and insights from some of the game’s greatest players and coaches. All are a must-read for players of all ages, coaches and hockey fans. In his latest book, he shares the insights and knowledge from his work with members of the business community.

“I read so much, I think what happens is that my mind gets full and to scratch the itch, I need to write,” Walter said. “We just finished our fifth book and much of the leadership development capacity that we work with Corporate America and Corporate Canada on is in this book. I ask the question, ‘What does it mean to be hungry?’ Corporate Canada asks ‘Are your people engaged?’ but I think hungry takes it to a different level. Do people love their workplace? Do they have passion in their job? Our metaphor is, do you come to work simply to work or do you come to work to win?”

Ryan’s website (www.ryanwalter.com) is very informative and interactive, with video clips of his keynote speeches and training seminars, testimonials from people that have been positively inspired by his work, and much more. When I visited the site, one message that struck a chord with me personally was, “Seeing change as an opportunity.”

“I think that’s the big choice in life isn’t it?” Ryan replied when I mentioned that phrase. “We have a tough go, we mess up, life comes at us and then those next steps are so critical because many of us get caught in the pity party. We never let those difficult times ignite us or create that hungry spirit for what we could do in the future.”

With his new book, Walter not only hopes to help people become better leaders and thrive in their work environment, he is also providing an exciting opportunity for minor hockey teams and youth groups to use it as a fundraiser.

“Jenn and I are very involved with charities, we loving doing that work,” Ryan explained. “For a little while, we are not going to put the new book into bookstores. What we want to do is have the book grow organically and be purchased across Canada through local minor hockey teams. Every sports team, Girl Guides group or Boy Scouts group can utilize this fundraiser. We want to add value to people’s lives and I think the book does that, but this program adds value on a different level.”

Here’s how it works - As an alternative to selling chocolate or an item that is seldom used to raise much-needed funds, organizations can purchase 100 copies of the book at a reduced rate and sell them at the regular cover price. By doing so, they can raise $500 towards helping to cover the costs of their team activities. Along with the opportunity to use the book as a fundraiser, the team or organization will also receive 20 free copies of Hungry! Fuelling Your Best Game.

For more information and all the details, you can visit this website: www.hungryfuellingyourbestgame.com

On August 2nd, the Abbotsford Heat of the American Hockey League announced that Ryan was joining their organization as the new President and CEO. As a Stanley Cup Champion, he brings his experience and winning attitude to the young organization. Leading by example, he can build a successful team on the ice and in the front office.

“I am loving the challenge,” Ryan said about his new job. “I have an on-ice team, but I also have an off-ice team now and I think that’s where personally growing as a leader comes in; that’s why I believe in leadership so much. It’s a key element because I always like to say, you sell products but you lead people. I have been in the seat for a few weeks and it has been a blast. It’s going to be a great challenge and Abbotsford is a wonderful organization with great people - we expect great things to happen!”

The Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks have been rivals for years, battling through many hard-fought regular season and playoff contests in the Smythe Division during the 1980’s and 1990’s. The old Smythe Division rivalry has carried over to the Northwest Division in today’s NHL. I asked Ryan, what is it like to be the Calgary Flames AHL affiliate in the heart of Canucks country?

“We are thankful for our relationship with Calgary and with the players that they are able to provide us, but the way we position it is that the top 700 players are in the NHL. The next 700 are in the AHL and are hungry to move up. I think it was 86% of players in the NHL last year played in the AHL at one point. If you want to come to a great game, independent of Calgary or anybody else, for $20 a ticket instead of $200 a ticket we can offer pretty good value.”

A Stanley Cup Champion, keynote speaker, successful author, team builder and leader; Ryan Walter is a shining example of embracing all that life presents us. Living life to the fullest and being hungry for whatever new and exciting challenges come our way. If we dare to reach towards our dreams, while we may fall short of our ultimate goals, we will have progressed further in life than we could have ever imagined. Amazing things happen when we see change as an opportunity.

Ryan’s books, including his latest, Hungry! Fuelling Your Best Game are available at his website. You can also follow Ryan on Twitter: @wryanwalter

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