For as long as Ryan Malone can remember, hockey has been etched into his life.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Ryan frequented Penguins games and watched his father, Greg ‘Bugsy’ Malone, play for the team. The hockey atmosphere fueled his passion for the sport as he hoped he, too, might get the chance to play in the NHL someday.
His childhood playing days began on the linoleum floor, skating from wall to wall in hand-woven socks from his grandmother. He and his brother slid around playing hockey until there were holes on one side of the socks; then they’d flip them over so the holes were at the top of their feet.
He couldn’t help but play, but it wasn’t until high school that his father asked him whether he wanted to pursue baseball or hockey—his two passions. Ryan chose hockey, and his father told him all about a camp in Nisswa, Minn., started by Herb Brooks and Chuck Grillo. Greg encouraged his son to attend Minnesota Hockey Camps for as many weeks as he wanted, as long as he took it seriously.
“My mom called and asked me how it was going,” Ryan said. “I said, ‘It’s not good. Mom, I can’t walk up stairs. My legs are so sore. I’ve never been this sore.’”After the first week of camp, Ryan began to question what he was getting himself into.
He went back for five more weeks. The pain subsided, his muscles strengthened and Ryan went on to become the first Pittsburgh native to play for his hometown Penguins team. Without Minnesota Hockey Camps, Ryan knows the outcome could have been much different.
“I loved it,” Ryan said. “You have a group of guys doing the same thing you are, and you all push each other. There were quite a few of us from different colleges, so we’d show up, have fun and work hard. Sometimes when you’re having fun, you don’t realize you’re working hard.”
Dubbed ‘Little Bugsy’ after his father, Ryan moved to Minnesota and played hockey at Shattuck St. Mary’s and St. Cloud State. More of an all-star baseball player than a hockey skater at times, he was determined to get better, and returned to Minnesota Hockey Camps any chance he got.
The ice time, dryland training and run-ins with No. 1 draft picks at the camp made Ryan realize just how much work he still had ahead of him.
Greg spent multiple summers coaching at Minnesota Hockey Camps. He knew full well what his son was getting into.
“I’m sure for him to see me kind of work hard and pursue something was fun for both of us,” Ryan said. “We even got some of our cousins that went, so it turned out to be a little family summertime activity, which was fun.”
For the Malone family that doesn’t go a holiday gathering without a little backyard hockey, it wasn’t out of the ordinary to spend time together at Minnesota Hockey Camps.
Ryan’s cousin and fellow camper, Brad Malone, also went on to play in the NHL. For Ryan, the chance to play at that level was well worth the hours of training he endured during summers in Minnesota.
“You always dream about it,” Ryan said. “But in all honestly, Minnesota Hockey Camps had a lot to do with that. With the training, they teach you about character and what it takes to persevere. I put a lot of time in out there. I loved playing hockey. I’d play hockey anywhere in the world, and I was lucky enough to be able to play in the NHL. That was definitely a privilege.
“I was playing up at Minnesota Hockey Camps for 15 or 16 years. There’s a certain family-type atmosphere where you push each other in practices. It’s a perfect world.”
Since his retirement in 2015, Ryan’s perfect world has turned into one that involves more time with his two young sons. He’s not on the ice quite as much as he used to be, but he can’t keep far from the game of hockey.
“It brings our whole family together,” Ryan said. “It’s something we share.”