Photo by Rena Laverty
Hockey came naturally to Ryder Rolston. Hanging out in National Hockey League locker rooms with your dad makes that pretty easy.
“I was always around the rink and I would get to go to NHL practices,” said Rolston, who started skating around 3 and played on his first team when he was 5. “I would see the structure of what it was like to play pro hockey and I was really mesmerized by that, especially getting to go into the locker room. I remember looking up to those guys and it really made me want to play.”
Rolston was 11 years old when his dad Brian retired from pro hockey after 17 seasons and 1,256 career NHL games. He is old enough to remember some key moments in his dad’s career.
“When he played for Minnesota, he was the captain,” said Ryder. “I remember going into the locker room and seeing all these other players looking up to him and learning from him. To see him be a leader, that was really cool to see.”
With spending that much time with his dad, Rolston was able to take what he learned and really mold his game. He truly appreciates the little words of advice he has received over the years.
“Every day he tells me to be the hardest working guy in practice,” he said. “That is definitely my motto. I think it has helped me on the ice. We play different styles even though we skate really similar. Everything he tells me to do, I do my best to try and put it into my game. He has helped me so much.”
While his dad was playing hockey, Rolston usually had to lean on his mom Jen to get him to practice and games. She played a huge role in his development.
“She had just as big of a role as my dad,” he said. “She was always there for me — especially up until I was 11, helping me with school and taking me to practice and games. I wouldn’t be here without her either. She has helped me so much.”
It should be no surprise that his uncle, Ron Rolston, also played a role in his hockey career. After all, he coached for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program from 2004-11, so Ryder was somewhat familiar with the program. He knew just how special it was to be able to play for his country.
“He would always tell me that it is a unique thing to be able to represent your country,” said Ryder. “If you have the chance to do it, it’s unbelievable. You get to see the different players that come through here such as Cam Fowler and Patrick Kane, and you see where they are now. You get that taste of what it is to represent your country and maybe even the Olympics down the road.”
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The 5-foot-11, 153-pound forward really saw his game grow over the course of his Under-17 season with the NTDP. He finished with 26 goals and 40 points in 53 games.
“Every aspect of my game has grown,” said Rolston. “I came in here and I was one of the more timid guys and as the year went on, I really tried to take every opportunity that was given to me and I took advantage of that. Where I was at the beginning of the year to now, it’s a huge gap. I feel that I am going to continue to make strides like that. The sky is the limit.”
One area that he credits to helping his game is the off-ice conditioning that the team did several times a week, especially during the season.
“It’s huge. Other teams in the USHL or other leagues, they do not really utilize that aspect of their game,” said Rolston. “I feel that for us, that is what makes the program so special. You are getting unbelievable on-ice training but it’s just as good off the ice. That is what is going to help me grow as a player.
Where I was at the beginning of the year to now, it’s a huge gap. I feel that I am going to continue to make strides like that. The sky is the limit.
“The Kirk [Culik, off-ice conditioning coach] sessions were pretty hard. As the season goes on, you definitely grow to appreciate them more. They have helped just has much as the weightlifting.”
The Birmingham, Michigan, native has plenty of memories from his first year with the red, white and blue.
“For me, I scored my first USHL hat trick [March 25 vs. Chicago] and that was a very good feeling,” he said. “Even though we lost that game, I felt that was something I worked for and it showed the work I had been putting in.
“I thought that winning the Five Nations in Finland [in February] was great too. It was unbelievable going over there and everyone played really well. Helsinki was a great city.”
Just as his uncle said, Rolston has experienced just how special it is to wear the USA jersey.
“It’s unbelievable to see that crest on your jersey every day. Not only in hockey but to be able to see what other people do for our country and see that you are in that same bubble or aspect of everything,” he said.
Photo by Rena Laverty
Family ties are important to Rolston. After all, he has committed to the University of Notre Dame and will play hockey for head coach Jeff Jackson. Jackson was Brian’s coach when he played at Lake Superior State from 1991-93.
“That was the biggest thing [on committing to Notre Dame]. My dad knows him as a coach very well and I had the opportunity to meet coach Jackson a while ago,” he said. “That was the best fit for me in terms of a program at Notre Dame but the academics and how prestigious it is. It’s an unbelievable institution to be committed to and I’m looking forward to playing there.”
For now, Rolston is focused on the present and getting ready for his Under-18 season. There will be one special person that he will get to train with all summer.
“I am focusing on training and that is one of the biggest things that has helped so much. I really love it,” he said. “I usually do drills with my dad, both on and off the ice as well. I’m pretty close with Nathan Gerbe, who came through this program, and I usually skate with him too.”
For Rolston, it’s all about the family atmosphere in helping with his success on and off the ice.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.