As Canada played Latvia during the preliminary round at the 2017 IIHF World
Junior Championship, a stop in action allowed those at the Air Canada
Centre to meet a special fan.
There on the Jumbotron, Ryan Coyte was presented a No. 17 jersey, the
letter ‘C’ stitched on the left, by Mitchell Stephens, a forward for
Canada’s National Junior Team.
Ryan, 18, is the team’s honorary captain. From the smile on his face you
wouldn’t have known the bumpy road he had taken to get there, and all the
stops and starts along the way.
Seven years ago Ryan’s dad, Philippe, surprised him with tickets to the
2009 World Juniors gold medal game in Ottawa. The family is from nearby
Kanata, Ont., so the prospect of seeing Senators draft pick Erik Karlsson
take on John Tavares and P.K. Subban was almost too good to be true.
Ryan hadn’t been feeling well in the days leading up to that Canada-Sweden
final. He’d been lethargic, had stomach pain, felt like he’d fall down at
“I couldn’t walk to my bus stop, which is maybe 10 houses down,” he says.
He and his parents thought he just had the flu. “I was waking up for only
an hour or two for my meals. As soon as I was done I’d pass out because I
was so tired.”
When he told Philippe and his mom, Caroline, that he couldn’t go to the
game, they knew it was time to see a doctor.
Thirty minutes after Ryan was taken in for bloodwork, the doctor came back
with a diagnosis.
Ryan had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which affects the blood and bone
marrow. He was at risk of having a stroke or cardiac arrest. The doctor
gave him two blood transfusions right then.
He started chemotherapy almost immediately and missed nearly a year of
school. Three years of treatment followed.
During that time the staff at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario
told him he’d be able to make a request to the Children’s Wish Foundation
“Originally my plan was to go to a European hockey game,” he says. “And
then I thought it would be cool to see the World Juniors there because
instead of seeing one game you can see a whole bunch. I just love this
tournament. You see all the prospects and the players in their emergence.”
Hockey Canada and the Children’s Wish Foundation arranged for Ryan and his
family to go to Malmö, Sweden, for the 2014 World Juniors.
But in May 2013, nearly a year after his last chemotherapy treatment, Ryan
relapsed. The trip was cancelled.
He went back on chemotherapy and had a bone marrow transplant. And he made
a new wish: to go to the 2016 World Juniors in Helsinki, Finland.
The day the family was to pick up the tickets – Dec. 14, 2015, just 12 days
before the tournament began – Ryan relapsed again.
He went through gene therapy – and ended up in intensive care for a couple
of weeks – and entered a clinical trial.
Ryan is now cancer-free.
And his wish to see the World Juniors finally came true.
“I was pretty speechless,” he says. “It’s Canada versus Russia [on opening
day], which is probably one of the oldest rivalries in hockey. It was a
surreal experience for me. I was really proud of the boys because they
But the games themselves have been only part of the story. On Dec. 29, when
he was presented his jersey, he spent the day behind the scenes. He checked
out the team’s dressing room, equipment room, and hot and cold tub, and sat
on the bench for the game-day skate. Dylan Strome and Thomas Chabot gave
him signed sticks.
Afterward he checked out the press box – and spent some time having an
“in-depth conversation about hockey” with Tom Renney, Hockey Canada’s
president and CEO – and the media workroom, where he sat in on the press
conference announcing Scott Smith would be taking over as president in July
The personal connection to Canada’s National Junior Team runs deeper than
this year. After Ryan missed out on Malmö, Philippe bought a tournament
package for Montreal in 2015. One night he and his older son realized they
were staying in the same hotel as Team Canada. Philippe encouraged Ryan to
write a letter to head coach Benoît Groulx about himself and how he had
missed the team a year earlier, and he asked if it would be possible to get
a signed jersey.
“It made it more special because Groulx was a part of that tournament [as
an assistant coach],” says Ryan. “It was really cool because he’s from
Gatineau and I’m from Ottawa.” A couple days later members of the Team
Canada staff – including Scott Salmond, the vice-president of hockey
operations and men’s national teams for Hockey Canada – knocked on his
door. “I thought they would be really busy. I thought maybe one of the
hotel managers would bring it up. I didn’t think someone would personally
Hockey had already been a big reason for Ryan’s positive mindset. “Every
time I was off treatment the amount of hockey stuff I did – video games,
stats, fantasy leagues – kept me motivated and busy and my morale boosted.”
All those numbers and all that analyzing spurred an interest in sports
Even when he found out he’d be spending part of the day with Team Canada,
“originally I just wanted to talk to the scouting department and see how
they set the team.” And after his jersey presentation he disappeared for a
bit. He was eventually found talking with his new friends in the TSN booth.
Playing hockey is not an option for Ryan – “with the tension in the skate
my Achilles could break” – and he doesn’t think coaching is either. “For a
coach you have to know how to skate. So then I started getting into
scouting and management. It changed my perspective. It helps my reporting,
too, because I understand both aspects.”
There’s now a new dream, a career in sports journalism. And with Ryan’s
determination, drive and just plain love of the game, that’s sure to be
another wish that comes true.