We all knows what happens to a first-round draft pick who goes on to an exceptional career in the NHL. They rack up accolades and are talked about even long after their playing days have ended. But what about the players who don’t make it? What are their careers or lives like after the shot at NHL stardom is long past? “Tales of a First-Round Nothing: My Life as an NHL Footnote,” written by Terry Ryan in 2014, is a hilarious autobiography of a highly-touted prospect who didn’t pan out. But just because Ryan only played in eight NHL games is no reason to ignore his 228-page memoir. In fact, that’s all the more reason to read it.
Ryan was drafted eighth overall in 1995, two spots ahead of Jarome Iginla. Early on in his book, he explains that his short NHL career was due to a series of poor personal decisions, poor managerial decision and badly-timed injuries. He talks about all of these in greater detail, but doesn’t dwell on what could have been. Rather, he takes us on an often-funny trip through his life, from his youth as a hockey prodigy all the way up to his post-professional years playing senior amateur hockey.
What makes Ryan such an interesting character is how far he was willing to go to achieve whatever he wanted to accomplish. This is a guy who used hot sauce to win a hockey fight, knocked out his own teeth to save money on dental work, and managed to out-snark then-Islanders GM Mike Milbury during a pre-draft interview.
Ryan also talks about several sexual escapades during his career — this book is not for minors — and just when you think it’s going to be another tale of an athlete bragging, the story veers off into an unexpected, hilarious direction.
I could go on and on about “Tales of a First-Round Nothing,” but I feel that the more I tell you, the less surprises you will get to experience for yourself. If you like hockey and have a good sense of humor, go read this book now.
Excerpt that epitomizes “Tales of a First-Round Nothing”: That’s when I broke down and cried like a baby, frustrated at my attitude. I couldn’t help but feel selfish. There I was, depressed that my ice hockey professional career was coming to an end. I was feeling sorry for myself, tripping over my bottom lip over the fact I was about to hear the term “first-round bust” a few tens of thousands of times. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks: despite everything, I was one lucky motherf–ker. I mean, how many folks had these kinds of experiences so frequently?
What I like about “Tales of a First-Round Nothing”: Most of Ryan’s book is laugh-out-loud funny. He is good at telling his story.
What I do not like about “Tales of a First-Round Nothing”: A few very serious events took place in Ryan’s life — divorce from his first wife, the death of his best friend from junior hockey, and adopting that friend’s son — but Ryan only touches on these. I could understand that he would want to respect the privacy of others, but a bit more about these would have made Ryan’s story feel a little more complete, as well as making him seem a little more grounded.
“Tales of a First-Round Nothing” is one of my three favorite hockey autobiographies from the past decade; the other two are “J.R.” by Jeremy Roenick and “Tough Guy” by Bob Probert. All three books have a “tell-it-like-it-is” style that is anything but bland. Ryan may have not have lasted in the NHL as long as Roenick or Probert, but he still carved out a seven-year professional hockey career and had a fun time doing it. You’ll have a fun time reading about it, too. ■
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk.