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From His Parent's Perspective: Joakim's First Taste of the NHL

by Missy Zielinski / sjsharks.com

Since the start of the 2017-18 NHL season, defenseman Joakim Ryan's parents have hopefully joined a frequent flyer program. 

Not only have they traveled nearly 6,000 miles to see their son play his first handful of games as an NHL player, but they've also logged more miles than the San Jose Sharks have as a team.

Nearly two weeks ago, Joakim's parents each got a call. Like many twenty-something's, the newest Sharks blueliner 'wouldn't just call without a reason,' so they knew something must have been up.

"He asked, 'what are you doing tomorrow?'" Joakim's mom, Catarina said. "I told him, 'I'm doing my normal stuff, are you playing or something?' and he said, 'yeah, I'm playing.'"

"Joakim is low-key, but we knew he was excited," Catarina added. "We were very happy for him."

Less than 24 hours later, the Ryan's had booked their flights and were headed for the West Coast to see Joakim suit up for his first NHL game, but it wasn't without a minor debate along the way.

"My wife and I sort of have a differing opinion on when we should arrive at the airport," Joakim's dad, Bill, said. "I like to get there before its open and she likes to get there when the plane's running down the runway."

"I thought it would be enough time if we left at 8 a.m.," Catarina added. "Then we got caught in traffic until 9:15 a.m., so we were a little late for Newark, but it ended up being no problem at all."

Despite the traffic and contrasting perspectives on airport ETA's, Joakim's parents and sister made their flight and finally had an opportunity to reflect on the day ahead.

"Once we got on the plane, I had around five to six hours to think about how he was actually going to play in an NHL game," Bill said. "It's been his dream, and I'm just so happy for him because he's worked really hard."

Catarina and Bill were familiar with SAP Center, watching Joakim play there when he was on the AHL's San Jose Barracuda the past two years, but by puck drop they realized this was different than any past trip.

"I had to sort of pinch myself at first," Bill said. "It took us pretty much all day to get to San Jose and then I'm sitting there watching him play the Buffalo Sabres."

"I told my husband, 'this feels really different,' because of the atmosphere compared to other levels," Catarina said.

Yet the excitement-factor didn't ruin Joakim's focus, even with the reigning Norris Trophy-winner, Brent Burns, as his defensive partner. Joakim finished fourth on the team in total ice time behind veteran blueliners Burns, Marc Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun, by logging 21:24.

Team Teal also notched its first win of the season in a 3-2 victory against Buffalo.

Although calm in his demeanor, his dad quickly picked up on one mannerism that summed up the day's emotions. 

"He was really chatty," Bill said. "Normally he's pretty mellow, when he's really chatty, you know he's excited. I'm sure he didn't go to sleep until pretty late at night."

The Ryan's extended their stay in San Jose through the weekend, where they saw Joakim play the Islanders before flying back to New Jersey.

But less than a week later the Ryan's were on the road again as they made several stops in the Tri-State Area, including Prudential Center in his home state of New Jersey, Barclays Center in Brooklyn and Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, for the first three games of the Sharks five-game East Coast swing.  

While the Ryan's witnessed Joakim being welcomed by a large group of friends and family chanting, 'JOAKIM-RYAN, JOAKIM-RYAN," after a 3-0 shutout against the New Jersey Devils, the game he had really anticipated was the matchup versus the New York Rangers.

"If he told you different, he'd be lying," his dad said.

It wasn't Joakim's first visit to Madison Square Garden, playing there as a member of the Cornell Big Red in college, but he grew up going to watch the Blueshirts as a kid.

"I was dragging him [and his little brother] into the Garden," Bill laughed. "We'd get three of us in with two tickets. That was back in the day, we couldn't do that today, but we did that for years because he was such a big Ranger fan."

Now as the team gets set to play Boston, his father is reminded of Joakim's first time to Beantown last season.

"When he got called up last year and traveled with the team to Boston, he went down to breakfast and Joe Thornton was there," Bill said. "Joe Thornton said something like, 'hey kid come have breakfast with me. He must have been shaking in his boots; I know I would have been."

While his last trip to Boston meant eating breakfast with a future Hall of Famer who sits in the Top-25 all-time for points, assists and games played, this year's trip to Boston could have a little history of its own. If Joakim skates for a seventh consecutive game Thursday, it will be the second Original Six team he gets to play in one week.

And there's a good chance he will have some family in the stands for that game too.

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