On the NHL's doorstep, Ryan Sandelin is only focused on doing better and being better

On the NHL's doorstep, Ryan Sandelin is only focused on doing better and being better

Apr 1, 2024

Story curtesy of Alex Tumalip, KSL News, Salt Lake City

LOVELAND, Colo. — Throughout his career, Ryan Sandelin has always been focused on the task at hand.

That task is now magnified by the forward's recent call-up to the American Hockey League's Colorado Eagles, an affiliate of the Utah Grizzlies, which also puts him on the doorstep of the NHL. The Eagles' NHL affiliates are the Colorado Avalanche, which are just an hour south of where Sandelin plays now in Loveland.

"When you're down in Utah, there's more games in a short amount of time," Sandelin said. "The talent level in the AHL forces you to step up your game."

Sandelin knows, however, he still has a ways to go to be NHL-ready, a journey that started in the basement of his home in Minnesota.

His father, Minnesota-Duluth hockey head coach Scott Sandelin, would watch both professional and college hockey games with the younger Sandelin. Scott would also bring Ryan along to meet the players, who immediately welcomed him into their own circles.

Growing up around his father's system helped some years later when Ryan played college hockey at Minnesota State, where Sandelin played against his father and the Bulldogs six times per season.

Joining Sandelin as a Maverick in Mankato was his close friend, now teammate, Eagles defenseman Wyatt Aamodt. The 6-foot blueliner, who is in his third season with Colorado since joining the Eagles as an undrafted free agent, grew up with Sandelin in Hermantown, Minnesota, where they also played hockey in high school on the same team.

Aamodt recalled being at the Sandelins' house and listening to Ryan "talk his ear off" about what he read in the sports section, whether it be NHL scores or anything else he could get his eyes on.

"After school every day, it was like I would always see him on the outdoor rinks," Aamodt said of Sandelin. "It makes you tip your cap to his work ethic and what he's done to get to this point."

And Sandelin's done quite a bit. Since being called up in February, the winger has scored four goals and added three assists, with two of those goals being game-winners.

"Everything is a process," Sandelin said. "You can't get caught up in someone else's journey. I understand I may not be the fastest or most skilled, but I know my knowledge of the game has always been my strength."

His head coach in Colorado, Aaron Schneekloth, has noticed Sandelin's high hockey IQ, as well. The Calgary, Alberta, native and former left defenseman for the Eagles who is in his second stint as head coach, said Sandelin was with the Grizzlies mainly to get playing time and help him find an identity.

And Sandelin admits his father still coaches him from afar, too. He said growing up in his father's system of play helped him stick to the principles of how to score and defend that at Minnesota State, Utah and Colorado.

"I always want to be the voice in Ryan's corner, but I want him to learn on his own, too," Aamodt said. "That said, we can always find a way to agree to disagree when it gets heated between us."

Schneekloth said Sandelin is loud and always communicating, regardless of the situation; however, he added that Sandelin "takes every opportunity to get better" and "always has a plan," whether it's in a drill, in practice or even warmups.

Sandelin, Aamodt added, is a natural-born goalscorer, even though the goals Sandelin scores aren't exactly pretty. One of the goals Sandelin scored off a rebound came after a fight for position down low in the slot, and Aamodt recalled joking with his friends afterward, calling it a "classic Ryan goal — it was greasy and dirty, but he got the job done."

Those moments are what makes Scott Sandelin proud, Ryan said. He said his father "feels I'm carving out a role for myself," while still striving to "be the best he can be."

It also helps that Ryan is now a young father, too, which has taught him to focus on what's important in the moment. He called his parents being able work and still raise a family — especially his father, Scott, as a coach — as "an incredible blessing."

Schneekloth said with advent of draft picks and free agents, it can be an uphill climb, but he said "those with the right mindset will find their way".

You can't help but think of Sandelin as a prime example of that.

"I don't look at it as a pressure situation; making an impact on a nightly basis is what people are looking for," Sandelin said. "That's what's fun about it."

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