Sports Hockey

Ryan Crowther died Nov. 6 while on a road trip to Chicago with the Predators

By Dave Dawson, Orillia Packet & Times

Ryan Crowther was a larger-than-life personality – something that has become increasingly evident in the wake of his untimely death.

Three weeks after he died while on a road trip to Chicago with the North Central Predators minor midget team he helped coach, the Predators paid tribute to Crowther on Wednesday night as hundreds of local hockey fans packed the Rama MASK out of respect for the long-time local athlete and coach.

“It’s inspiring to see that Ryan touched so many lives,” said his wife, Sarah, wiping away tears, after the emotional ceremony at centre ice. “The support from everyone, but the hockey community especially, has been unbelievable. It’s overwhelming.”

The love for Crowther was also overwhelming. As Rama First Nation drummers performed a solemn song, players and coaches from the seven Predators teams lined up in groups on the ice while the minor midget squad and its opponents, the Barrie Colts, lined up on opposing blue lines. Officials from the Predators, the Orillia Minor Hockey Association, the Ontario ETA Hockey Association, the Ontario Hockey League, the Orillia Minor Lacrosse Association, Rama First Nation and others flanked members of the Crowther family as they stood shoulder to shoulder in front of the players’ benches for the 20-minute ceremony.

“Ryan’s contribution to our organization as a player and a coach were exceptional,” Predators vice-president Chris Beiers said of Crowther, who co-coached this year’s minor midgets alongside Jeff Roe. “His impact on the team was immediate and positive. The kids loved to hear the stories about what the next level could bring, and Ryan was quick to remind them that other important aspects of life exist.”

To recognize Crowther’s contribution, a commemorative banner, proclaiming ‘Coach Ryan Crowther: Always remembered’ was unfurled behind the home-team players’ bench. “Ryan will always be there for the boys, watching over them,” Beiers said as the players Crowther coached looked on, many fighting emotions.

Predators president Roger Crandell presented the family with a Predators jersey signed by the players. Then, various members of Crowther’s family – including his wife, his sisters and his parents, with assistance from his two young daughters – participated in a ceremonial faceoff.

“The outpouring of emotion and support for the Crowther family is the finest example of strength in the hockey community,” said Beiers, a sentiment that was echoed on Coach’s Corner Saturday when Don Cherry and Ron MacLean mentioned Crowther’s death on air. While they couldn’t be in Rama Wednesday night, an audio message from the duo was played.

“To the Predators, I want you to be tough as Ryan was,” Cherry said of Crowther, who died Nov. 6 at the age of 37. “Be an ice warrior like him.” MacLean spoke of how Crowther’s death devastated the hockey community: “It’s such a tough thing for you kids to experience. Know we are with you tonight in spirit.”

The emotion-charged night was a testament to the impact Crowther had on those around him, his widow said. “It just shows how amazing Ryan was. To see that all these people loved Ryan and that he meant a lot to a lot of people ... the support is appreciated.”

Crowther, who grew up playing minor hockey in Orillia, went on to play AAA hockey, played in the OHL for four seasons, returned home to play for the Provincial Jr. A Terriers and then went on to play professional hockey around the world. 

The rugged defenceman, who never backed down from a battle on the ice, went public a few months ago with his battle against the devastating impact multiple concussions had on his life. Despite those challenges, Crowther had returned to hockey as a coach. He also coached minor lacrosse – his midget team won a provincial title last year.

His passion for hockey and lacrosse was matched only by his love for his family, his wife and children – Ryley and Kylyn. While the hockey and lacrosse communities are reeling, Sarah and the kids are devastated.

“It comes in waves,” said Sarah. “It’s the little things. I just wish I could hear Ryan come home. It’s so hard knowing that the kids won’t have him for all those ... everything. He always made them smile, so, it’s hard. I just miss him so much.”

Wednesday night’s game, in which 100% of ticket costs was earmarked to help support the family, raised $4,000. On Saturday night, the Orillia Terriers will honour Crowther with a pre-game ceremony at Rotary Place. The Jr. C hockey team will host Caledon at 7:30 p.m.

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