Talk about moving from the penthouse to the basement. And it’s not like Ryan van Asten was kicked out. This summer, he gave up all that Stanley Cup glory and great weather in Los Angeles to come to Calgary and take over a major fixer-upper in one of the most frigid climates on the NHL map.
Now, before you go thinking ‘What the f-bomb was he thinking?’ van Asten did have very good reasons for leaving sunny southern California after three seasons as the Kings’ strength and conditioning coach.
First and foremost, he’d spent most of the past three years living in L.A. while his wife, Jackie, who’s a doctor, remained in Calgary.
Second, Cowtown is van Asten’s adopted home, where he worked for six years and met his wife before taking the job with the Kings.
Third, the guy just loves a good challenge.
“It is intriguing to me to come to a team like this that’s rebuilding and see if I can leave my mark,” van Asten said. “We’re starting from ground zero here, and it’s going to be a long process.
“When I got to L.A., a lot of the pieces were in place, and I did my best to leave my mark there, and I think I did a good job that way. But here, it’s a completely different situation from when I got to L.A., and it’s exciting for me to have this challenge. In this market, if we could win a championship here, it would just be amazing.”
Van Asten, 33, comes to Calgary with an impressive résumé, which includes a physical and health education degree from Queen’s University and a master’s degree in neuromuscular physiology at the University of Calgary. In three seasons with the Kings, he helped them to two Stanley Cups. Prior to that, he worked for Hockey Canada, training the national women’s hockey team, which won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
After an 8-4-2 start, the Flames are neck and neck with the Kings, who are now trained by van Asten’s good friend and former U of C classmate Matt Price. Failure has been to Calgary, however, what success has been to Los Angeles in recent years, so the Flames know there’s still a lot of work to do. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2009 and aren’t expected to end that ignominious streak this season.
Still, van Asten sees the same seeds that led to so much success in L.A. being planted in Calgary.
“There are a lot of similarities between the two teams,” he said. “You can be the first-line centerman or the fourth-line centerman – the expectation is the same for everybody. And it was the same in L.A. with Darryl Sutter. It’s just a blue-collar type of atmosphere, and if you’re not prepared to work, you’re not going to fit in very well.”
In van Asten (@RyanVanAsten), the Flames have a proven winner who’s pumped to be back home (even if an early September snowstorm in Calgary might have given him pause to reconsider). Can he transform the Flames off the ice into the physical freaks the Kings' became under his watch? Time will tell, but recent history suggests he can. One thing is for sure, winning in Los Angeles would be small potatoes compared to bringing a championship to Calgary for the first time since 1989.
“Coming back has been awesome, it’s quite a bit different, but it’s been great,” van Asten said. “To work for the Calgary Flames is just amazing. People here really care. They take it personally, too. That brings a little bit of pressure, which is great, but it makes it exciting.”