In July, for the first time in more than two decades, the University of Toronto Varsity Blues men’s hockey team made a change at the head of its coaching staff. Ryan Medel joined Toronto as a first-time head coach this season after seven years in an assistant coaching role at Carleton University, where he attended university.
Medel took over from former head coach Darren Lowe, who left after a long run — he had headed up the team since 1995, and he had been on the Blues coaching staff since 1992.
Originally from Ruthven, Ontario, Medel comes to Toronto after a very successful run with the Carleton Ravens, where he was a part of seven straight playoff appearances. He has a lot of love for the Carleton program but is excited to start a new chapter of his career here with the Blues.
“Carleton was a newer program and coming here there’s just a rich tradition of success, and a lot of history here,” said Medel. The move has been a change in atmosphere. “Just being downtown Toronto too, it’s just a different feel. The city is alive, it’s always going,” he added. “It’s been a lot of fun here.”
He hasn’t been met with any surprises in his new role so far, but there has been a certain level of increased responsibility in making the big decisions.
“I think the one thing I’m just finding as a head coach is you have to be bringing your A-game and energy every single day. You know, I think you’re the person that the guys are looking to, and you just have to make sure you’re at your very best.”
Medel has a real love for the game, especially the strategy behind it — a passion that resulted in him getting into coaching right after graduating.
“[I] just thought that if I could stay inside the game somehow I would give that a try. I had the opportunity there after graduating at Carleton to jump right in as an assistant coach,” said Medel.
Medel described his coaching style as being heavily dependent on communication, relationships, and preparation. “I think the biggest thing is I want our group to grow as a team, [and] grow into a family.”
He credits his fellow coaches from Carleton, who were with him from the beginning of his career, with helping to shape him as a coach. Marty Johnson, who was an assistant coach during Medel’s playing career and head coach while he was an assistant, was a huge influence. “I got to learn from him for nine years, and just learn what it was to basically be a professional, coming to the rink every day.”
Medel credits a lot of his coaching abilities to Shaun Van Allen, a former NHL player and former head coach of the Ravens. “I feel that he’s got so much valuable experience. He just was really able to open my eyes in a couple different areas of the game.”
The trio has been scattered this year: Johnson is coaching in the AHL for the Manitoba Moose, while Van Allen has taken over the head coaching duties back at Carleton, but Medel said they’re still in “constant communication.”
In terms of less personal coaching influences, Medel named head coach Mike Babcock of the Toronto Maple Leafs, for whom he grew up cheering, and Washington Capitals bench boss Barry Trotz as some of his favourite NHL coaches. Babcock also started at the university level, providing Medel with an example to look up to. He also likes to learn from the greats of the past, like Pat Quinn, and often reads coaching biographies in his spare time.
Medel praised his new team for their speed and their work ethic in particular. “This is an extremely hard-working group, on and off the ice. We have a lot of great students on our team, but also guys that are coming each and every day and working really hard,” he said.
Hard work and commitment are very important to him and he wants his players to focus on improving every day as a team. “We know if we do that… we’re going to win more games than not.”
For Medel, the thing that gives him the most fulfillment in his job is being able to have a positive influence on the young guys, and to see them take steps forward.
“We tell the guys that we want to get better each day, and when you see improvements in not only the individuals but in our team game… that gives me a lot of fulfillment.”
Ultimately, Medel wants his team to grow both as players and as people this year. Through hard work and dedication, he hopes to have a lot of success with the men that make up this year’s team. However, no matter what happens at the end of the season, it’s the relationships that Medel thinks are going to be the most valuable takeaway.
“I want guys to not only enjoy their time here but look back at it as one of their favourite years when they’re older.”