Former Bulldog center Ryan Steeves ’04, who signed a three-year contract with the Colorado Avalanche July 15, will be expected to report for training camp in Denver September 16.
The Avalanche drafted Steeves in the seventh round of the 2002 NHL Amateur Draft with the 227th overall pick. This March, defensemen Jeff Dwyer ’04 and Joe Callahan ’05 also turned pro, making Steeves the third member of the 2003-2004 Eli men’s ice hockey squad to join the professional ranks.
“As a young hockey player, it’s your dream to one day sign an NHL contract,” Steeves, a four-year letter winner for Yale said. “From here on out, I just have to put myself in the best position to one day make the team.”
Steeves pointed to his four years as an Eli as being crucial to his growth as a player and his preparation for professional hockey, but the relationship was mutually beneficial. The Rockland, Ontario native asserted himself as a stalwart of Yale hockey since he arrived as a 17 year-old in the fall of 2000. A speed demon who contributed both at even strength and on special teams, he finished his Eli career with 37 goals and 54 assists.
“[Steeves] is probably the best player I have ever played on a line with in my entire life,” linemate Jeff Hristovski ’06 said. “He is extremely responsible defensively, has great vision, has incredible speed, can score goals, and even has a lot of feistiness in him.”
In addition to his on-ice exploits, Steeves displayed quiet but very strong leadership abilities, Yale head coach Tim Taylor said.
Steeves provided a good deal of guidance for a young Bulldog squad that experienced its fair share of highs and lows last season. The Elis went 8-2 during the middle stretch of the season, but dropped their last seven contests, including two playoff losses to lower seed St. Lawrence to close the season with a record of 12-19.
“[Steeves] is one of the main reasons that our team kept together this year when we went through many of our rough patches,” Hristovski said. “The most important thing he did for me personally this past year was give me my confidence back. I had a pretty shaky freshman season – by my standards anyway – and he made me believe that I could be a successful hockey player at this level by none other than just his example.”
With the relative stability of Yale behind him, Steeves, like many professional hockey players this upcoming season, faces an uncertain future. With little progress being made on a new collective bargaining agreement between players and owners in the NHL, a lockout seems probable. In that scenario, Steeves would report to Colorado’s AHL affiliate, the Hershey, Penn. Bears, this fall.
The Bears finished in second to last place in the East Division last year, posting a 33-34-8-5 record.
“From what I’ve heard, Hershey, Pennsylvania is a great hockey town,” Steeves said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what it is like at the next level and hopefully working my way up.”
With a tremendous amount of skill and speed, Steeves possesses the necessary abilities to transition to the next level, Taylor said.
“He’s going to be able to skate with anybody in the league,” Taylor said. “His transition on the skill platform will be relatively easy. [The game is] more conservative, more physical, but he’s going to be asked to play the same role”
Steeves joins several former-Bulldogs in the professional ranks. Callahan, Dwyer, Chris Higgins ’06, Ben Stafford ’01, Ray Giroux ’98, Steve Deschenes ’03, and Jeff Hamilton – Yale’s all-time scoring leader – could all potentially compete in the AHL this year.
“Yale has done well in the past few years at sending players to the next level,” Steeves said. “I think that it’s a real testament to the hockey program at Yale and the type of people that help make it work.”
He particularly credited Taylor.
“Coach Taylor is a real teacher of the game and he helped me get better every year,” Steeves said. “He knows a lot about the game and I think all of his players both past and present would attest to that.”
Despite the uncertainty surrounding North American professional ice hockey this year, Steeves’ contributions to Yale hockey are far clearer with perhaps many chapters to be added in Colorado, Pennsylvania or elsewhere.