John F. Russell: Discovering the unexpected places the game can lead

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John Russell

John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by John here.

— Back when Ryan Dingle was a high school student in Steamboat Springs, he used to dream of the place hockey would take him.

He hoped the path to the NHL would be fast and direct and would land him on the roster of one of the 30 teams that play for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

It’s a path most high school hockey players hope to travel, but in the past several years, Dingle has learned that it’s not the only path.

Dingle was special, and the path to the NHL seemed to have presented itself early in his life. His performance in high school earned him a spot on a couple of national championship teams at the University of Denver, and he got the attention of several pro teams who made him a top prospect.

He signed with Anaheim in 2007 and elected to skip his final year at DU with hopes of making a name for himself in the NHL. It’s a decision Dingle stands by to this day, and a decision he doesn’t regret.

But he also learned that signing a contract doesn’t mean a guaranteed spot on an NHL roster, and Dingle quickly found out that final stretch to the NHL is not a road paved with guarantees.

He spent a couple of years floating around the Duck’s farm system, a couple more with the Flyers in Philadelphia and Canucks in Vancouver. The past two seasons, Dingle has been playing for a professional hockey team in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. It’s not the NHL, but the league has rekindled his love for the game and reminded him what it’s like to be part of a team.

“I learned that when you are trying to earn a spot on an NHL team, the competition is sitting on the bench right next to you and in your own locker room,” Dingle said. “You are not really competing against the other team as much as you are competing with the guys who are on your own team. That never really worked for me.”

After several years bouncing around in the farm system, it would be easy for Dingle to start looking at the places his hockey career hasn’t taken him. But at 29, Dingle prefers to look at the other side of the journey and the places he has been thanks to the game he has played since he was a kid.

The road has not resulted in a sustained presence on the NHL ice, but there are only so many athletes in the world who have traveled that road. Hockey, however, has taken Dingle to some incredible places and led him to some incredible opportunities.

“I always dreamed of where hockey would take me,” Dingle said. “Now I get to enjoy all the places I’ve been able to go because of hockey.”

Without hockey, Dingle said he never would have spent three years at the University of Denver, and he never would have met his future wife (he will get married in August) who also was attending DU when he was there.

Without hockey, Dingle never would have had a chance to live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world or to be exposed to the beauty and culture of northern Italy.

There was a time when Dingle had hoped that hockey would take him to the NHL, to the spotlight and to fame. These days, he realizes that it was a mistake to think the only place hockey would take him was to an NHL team. He has come to realize that the game also can lead down other paths, to other places and other opportunities.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com

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