BRAMPTON, Ont. – A familiar face joined the Brampton Battalion’s coaching staff Tuesday.
Ryan Oulahen, who played 182 games with the Ontario Hockey League club over three seasons culminating in 2004-05, enlisted as a parttime assistant coach, replacing Jason Ward, who left for Austria in November to resume his professional playing career. Oulahen is to make his coaching debut Thursday when the Battalion hosts the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors at 7 p.m.
Oulahen, a fourth-round pick in the 2001 OHL Priority Selection who turns 26 on March 26, scored 65 goals and earned 71 assists for 136 points, 16th on the club’s career list. He is ninth in goals, third all-time in game-winning goals with 16 and tied for fourth in club history with six shorthanded goals. Oulahen, who captained the Troops in his final season, added six goals and 12 assists for 18 points in 28 playoff games.
“I go back a long way with Ryan; I’ve known him since he played peewee for Wexford,” said Stan Butler, Battalion director of hockey operations and head coach, who added Oulahen to a staff that numbered fulltime assistant coach Kelly Harper, goaltending coaches Mike Tamburro and Rob Beatty and skills development coach Jamie Allison.
“Ryan was always a classy guy and a great leader who has been a captain everywhere he’s played. We had talked over the last few weeks and thought, with Jason leaving and the youth of our team, that it would be great to bring him in.”
Selected by the Detroit Red Wings in the fifth round of the National Hockey League’s 2003 Entry Draft, Oulahen embarked on a four-year professional career with the Grand Rapids Griffins, Detroit’s American Hockey League affiliate, in 2005-06. He played 302 games, accumulating 53 goals and 54 assists for 107 points before his career ended because of a dislocated left hip suffered in a road game against the Norfolk Admirals on March 27, 2009.
“It was an ugly injury,” said Oulahen. “I was rushed to the hospital and spent the night. They put my hip back into place, but five months later I had surgery, and that kept me out of hockey for four months. I tried to come back from that, but I had to have another surgery and I was told that was the end of the line.
“It was a tough two years. There’s really no other way to put it. I was having the best season of my career, and in the blink of an eye it came to an end. You never know what the future holds, but I believe things happen for a reason. I battled through that injury and I’m healthy now, and that was always my primary focus.”
Oulahen picked up the coaching bug behind the Grand Rapids bench last season.
“I knew it was something I wanted to get into. When I knew I wasn’t going to play anymore, I had to figure out what I wanted to do. You don’t realize how much you miss hockey. I don’t know where my career would have taken me. My last season was my best one. I was told I was close to getting called up to the Red Wings. But I can’t dwell on what might have happened. The Red Wings are a first-class organization. They were great to me.”
Married and living in Barrie, Oulahen is taking online courses through Athabasca University with an eye to becoming a teacher.
“I’ve always felt coaching and teaching go hand-in-hand. This is a great start for me. I got in touch with Stan, and we worked something out. This is a fantastic opportunity to get back into the game and come to a place where I loved playing. Long before I talked to Stan, I thought about how great it would be to start a coaching career with the Battalion, the place where my junior career started.
“It seemed like I played here a long time ago until I came to the rink today, parked in the same spot I used to use and came in the same door. It’s a great feeling to be able to do that, and I don’t think a lot of players get the opportunity after they’re done playing to come back and coach the team they played for.”
Oulahen said his age and experience give him plenty to offer the Troops.
“I’ve played for both Stan and Kelly and was a captain here and a captain in the pros, so I know what’s expected. I’ve been through all the experiences these guys are going through. I think I have a lot of advice to give to these guys. I have a lot to learn, but I also have a lot to give.”
Said Butler: “He learned a lot in the Red Wings organization and he knows what it takes to play in the pros. He was a great leader, on and off the ice, and was a very positive guy. He can really help our young guys.”
Oulahen took in the Battalion’s 6-3 road loss to the Barrie Colts last Thursday night and a 2-1 setback Sunday to the visiting Kitchener Rangers. Sandwiched between those games was an 8-0 romp Friday night over the host London Knights.
“I talked to the coaches about the team here, and it looks to be a young, hard-working group of guys, which is what you want if you’re a coach. Sometimes high-end players don’t need as much coaching, but this is a group that needs it, and you can see the results they’ve had. The guys played well in London, and they really seem to absorb a lot. It should be a good group to work with.”