Ryman becomes latest Ice Dogs player to commit to UAF Hockey
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The dream for many youth hockey players in Fairbanks, Alaska is to play for the Tier II Junior A Fairbanks Ice Dogs or for the hometown university’s Division I program. A select few talents get to live out both dreams, which now includes Fairbanks-native and current Ice Dog goaltender Austin Ryman, who announced his commitment to play for the University of Alaska Nanooks.
“This is really a dream come true, it really is. I am living out what I have wanted to since I came to these games and watched these guys,” said Ryman of being able to suit up for the Ice Dogs and the Nanooks after watching both programs throughout his childhood.
Ryman received an initial phone call from UAF on November 30, the day after his 20th birthday, notifying him of their current situation. A UAF goaltender elected to opt-out of the upcoming season, leaving a hole in the goaltending room, where Ryman will fill the role as a third-string goalie.
“He’s worked hard to get where he’s at,” said Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart. “A lot of people don’t know this, but skating is such a big part of being a goalie and he is a very strong skater. He’s confident and he gets out of his crease and challenges shooters all over the ice.”
After competing for West Valley High School, Ryman played for the North American Prospects Hockey League’s Wenatchee Wolves 18U. He returned to Fairbanks in 2019, earning the backup spot behind Mattias Sholl. The 5-foot-11 goaltender made the most of his opportunities between the pipes, posting an impressive 7-1 record with a 0.929 save percentage during the 2019-20 season with the Ice Dogs. He returned to the program this year, where he was the starter before their season was put on pause following the Governor of Minnesota’s Executive Order. If the Ice Dogs return to play as planned in January, Ryman will not be re-joining the program, but rather head straight towards the Blue and Gold sweaters to compete for UAF this upcoming season, which is set to begin January 1 at Lake Superior State.
“It was an easy decision [to attend UAF] but taking into account the boys and leaving them, that was a tough decision to make.” said Ryman of not returning to the Ice Dogs this season.
Ryman is the most recent Ice Dog that plans to stay in Fairbanks to continue their hockey career, joining teammates Mason Plante, Bret Link and Fairbanks-native Nick Ostbloom, who all previously committed to the Nanooks. A trio of former ‘Dogs are already on the UAF roster in Caleb Hite, Matt Koethe and Robert Blueger.
“To be able to see these guys have a chance to wear our logo and then have the chance to wear a Nanook logo, I think it bodes well for the future of hockey in Fairbanks,” Stewart added. “All of these players that come to us, they are taking a leap of faith and their families are taking a leap of faith, being far away from home and in inhospitable climate every once in a while in the winter time, being dark and cold. But once they’re up here, they get to love the community and understand that it is a hockey community. I don’t think a lot of players have second thoughts after being recruited by UAF after having worn our logo.”
Other former Ice Dogs turned Nanooks include Justin Woods, Alec Hajdukovich and Tayler Munson. Ryman will be joining a UAF program coached by Erik Largen, a former Nanook goaltender and Ice Dogs goaltending coach. Ryman’s relationship with Largen predates the days where playing college hockey became a reality for him.
“He’s done nothing but amazing things for the program,” said Ryman of Largen. “Being coached by him as a little kid, I remember him giving me some goaltending instruction back when I was young, like in Squirts (ages 10-and-Under) or Mites (8-and-Under). I am really excited to play for him.”
Like many young skaters in the area, Ryman grew up watching and admiring both the Ice Dogs and UAF hockey programs, which gave him his current appreciation for the supportive community.
“Fairbanks hockey means so much to the community. People look forward to those Friday and Saturday night games, not only to watch hockey, but I think the supporters get a connection with these guys. Over the years playing with the Ice Dogs, I have made several connections with a lot of our fans and is just really something special and it is an honor to have that opportunity.”
Ryman will get plenty of opportunity to continue to connect with the community. Per the NCAA, no winter-sport athletes will lose a year of eligibility, so Ryman can return to the Nanooks next season with an extra year of experience under his belt. All of this was once a dream for Ryman, who now gets to live out the fantasy of many young skaters in the area.
“It is really surreal,” he said. “Last year, I remember coming to the Ice Dogs, being kind of a new player and you have those quiet moments at the rink before games and you’re like, ‘wow, this is truly a dream come true.’”
For the Ice Dogs, they hope to return to play following the expiration of the Executive Order. The Nanooks, who went 14-9-5 in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association last season, make their Fairbanks-debut January 8 when they host Northern Michigan University at the Patty Ice Arena on the UAF campus.
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