As a defenceman on the men’s hockey team at Queen’s, the possibility of bringing the Stanley Cup home to Oshawa was a long shot for Ryan van Asten.
Nine years after graduating Queen’s — with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in 2003 and again in 2005 with a Bachelor of Physical Education — he’s won two.
To be clear, van Asten’s accomplishments didn’t come as a player. During his time as a Gael, van Asten posted a mere 13 points as a defensemen on an underachieving Queen’s team.
It was after his time in Kingston where he found his calling. Interested in human movement and kinesiology, van Asten moved from his hometown of Oshawa to Calgary to get a Masters of Exercise Physiology in 2005 — calling the city home ever since.
Working as a professional strength and conditioning coach for various organizations, he’s now a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Los Angeles Kings and an Olympic gold medallist with the Canadian women’s hockey team.
Currently the strength and conditioning coach for the NHL’s Calgary Flames, van Asten’s career has taken a number of twists and turns since his days as a Gael.
Beginning his career in 2008 with an internship at a well-known sports performance institute in Florida, van Asten has jumped around from east coast to west coast and back to where it all began in Calgary, collecting much of his hardware along the way.
After three years working with the national hockey and luge programs in Calgary — as they prepared for the 2010
Olympics — in 2011 van Asten jumped at a job offer from the Los Angeles Kings, where he’d stay until 2014.
But with his wife Jackie, who he met at Queen’s, and his children in Calgary, the Queen’s graduate felt like it was his duty to help in the team’s turnaround, coming on at the start of the 2014-15 season.
The Flames’ place in the NHL varies from that of the Kings in a number of ways.
While the Kings were already earning a reputation as one of the league’s best on-ice teams in van Asten’s first year with the organization, the Flames are still in a stage of rebuilding, having missed the playoffs each of the past five years before he came to the organization.
During his career, Van Asten has seen a rise in younger players.
“The main difference is the level of physical maturity of most of the players,” he said.
Los Angeles currently has the ninth-oldest average age in the NHL, while Calgary has the seventh-youngest, according to NHLNumbers.com.
And while old-school hockey culture often looks at the most basic physical characteristics, van Asten says players like Johnny Gaudreau, who scored 75 points this past season — despite being listed at just 5’7” and 157 pounds — are changing that stereotype with new types of strength and conditioning exercises that are becoming commonplace
across pro sports.
“For most guys, we never focus on getting them to a certain weight,” van Asten said, while adding that there are many more characteristics in an athlete’s fitness than their height and weight.
Despite working in professional sport, van Asten still looks back on his Queen’s days fondly and keeps in touch with many of his teammates, who he says are among his closest friends.
“I still talk to those guys to this day.”
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