Senior Ryan Larkin grew up playing hockey with his older brother and two cousins, and he was the last to learn how to skate.
“Since I couldn’t skate, they made me play goalie and I ended up kinda developing the skills for it,” Ryan said.
Recreational leagues allow players to rotate positions, but by age 10, Ryan found his home in the net, playing goalie full-time. Twelve years later, the net is still home and, for the last three years, it has rested on the ice of the Steve “Coach” Cady Arena.
During the summer, however, he returns to Michigan, his home state, to share his hockey skills with younger kids in a special way.
For the past four years, Ryan, his brother, Adam, and his cousins, Dylan and Colin, have run Larkin Hockey School at Lakeland Arena in Michigan, after their local rink owner asked if they’d be interested in starting a camp.
All four boys have plenty of hockey experience — Ryan is Miami’s starting goalie, Colin played at the University of Massachusetts Boston, Adam played at Yale and Dylan is the alternate captain for the Detroit Red Wings. Between the four of them, all three positions are covered.
“We have a little bit of something for every kid that comes to the camp and someone that’s kinda an expert on that position, and I guess it just kinda went from there,” Ryan said.
This past year, the youngest participant they had was five-years-old and the oldest was 13 or 14, so the camp is split into three-day segments to accommodate the three different age groups.
On a typical day back in Oxford, Miami goalies grace the ice 30 minutes before the rest of the players, working on goalie-specific training before delving into a regular team practice. Ryan says if the goalies aren’t focused, the rhythm of practice gets thrown off.
“The game kind of revolves around us, so it’s important that we’re always ready and that, during practice, we’re ready to go,” he said.
On game days, he breaks the game down into five-minute pieces. While his teammates swerve about a stretch of ice, sending shards of ice flying into side boards, Ryan commands a smaller amount of space with the same amount of intensity. He takes his stance, fiercely protecting the net.
“The very first save is kind of in a category of its own — you always like to get that first save, it makes you feel confident and feel like you’re in the game,” he said.
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Being in the net requires both speed and focus without much break. Ryan says the mental part of being a goalie is more tiring than the physical part. During the week, he practices with purpose and talks with coaches and former Miami goalies to try to decrease stress and calm his nerves.
“At the end of each weekend, there’s a big mental wear and tear on ya, and it’s just kind of between the nerves and the pressure of the position,” Ryan said. “Every Sunday is kind of a day just to relax and get your mind away from hockey.”
Despite the high-pressure nature of his position, Ryan’s demeanor is calm and quiet. Dressed in black athletic pants, a light blue hoodie, black and white bracelets and Nike gym shoes, he chats about his love for his sport.
He talks about his most memorable moments as goalie — his first win freshman year playing against Providence, and a game in North Dakota where Miami was down 3-1 at the beginning of the third period, and ended up winning it 5-3 — and he talks about how the relationships that are built make hockey different from other sports.
“You’re also all competing for the same thing, while competing against each other for playing time at every position,” he said. “So, you get a little bit of everything, but it really is a family atmosphere.”
And really, that’s nothing new. For Ryan, hockey has always been a family affair.