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Suiting for the USA at international competitions will never get old for Derek Ryan


KOSICE, Slovakia - Derek Ryan, understandably, is proud to be draped in the familiar colours of the American flag.

By his own admission, though, there was a time where he could've potentially swapped blue for the green, and the stars and stripes for the horizontal tri-colour of the Hungarian flag. 

"It's funny," starts Ryan, currently representing Team USA at the 2019 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia. "My first year in Europe I was playing in Hungary, and they were talking to me about maybe staying with that team.

"If I played there for four or five years, I could get a Hungarian passport and maybe have a chance to play in the World Championship someday against the USA or Canada.

"Now here I am playing for the USA against Canada. It's pretty ironic.

"My journey gets talked about all the time, but it's pretty cool to just sit back and look at where I've come from since then."

Ryan, who capped his first year with the Flames in 2018-19, has certainly come a long way since that season some eight years ago.

Like he suggested, it's been well-documented.

After finishing up his collegiate career at the University of Alberta, Ryan bolted for Hungary in 2011-12. It was followed by two more in Austria. Another single in Sweden eventually landed him with the Carolina Hurricanes organization, a three-year stint, before signing on for three seasons in Calgary.

His journey, before inking in Calgary last summer, took the 32-year-old to the international stage for the first time last spring.

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Ryan was a late addition to Team USA's entry at the World Championship in 2018, but scrambled in time after a call from Bill Zito, then an assistant general manager with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the architect of the American squad. 

He hadn't skated in international action before.

Not with Hungary, of course.

But neither with Team USA.

"The story behind that is I was a last-minute call and I got the call the day before we were flying out," reveals Ryan, 31 at the time. "I had to fly out the next morning at 6 a.m. It was a bit of a whirlwind, a lot going on. Obviously exciting. It was my first time being on Team USA. It's fun to be around these guys, the top guys in the league.

"To be a part of that is a pretty big honour and something I'll cherish."

Though he was a part of Calgary's five-game run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring, Ryan had more lead-time to prepare to suit up.

After an 81-game twirl in Calgary, and those additional playoff skates, Ryan took to the skies one more time.

This time, though, there's a different approach.

Now 32, Ryan is the third-eldest player on the team trailing only Minnesota Wild defenceman Ryan Suter and New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider. Suter checks in at a dozen months his elder; Schneider is his senior by just 10.

It has Ryan, the veteran of just 234 NHL games, taking a bit of a leadership role on the team in the tournament.

In just his second international experience, no less.

"I mean, I try to," admits Ryan, who this season matched his NHL career high of 38 points (13 goals, 25 assists) as a member of one of Calgary's most consistent trios. "Especially compared to last year. I was a rookie … didn't really know what was going on.

"Now I'm more familiar with everything. I try to be a little more confident in what's going on and have a little more fun with it."

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