The Niagara IceDogs announced Monday that recently retired Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Mike Van Ryn has been hired as an assistant coach.
Head coach and general manager Marty Williamson said Van Ryn was the perfect fit to help the team's young defence corps.
"I look at my situation here, my two first-rounders are two blueliners and we have (defenceman) Dougie Hamilton here who has the potential to be a first-rounder in the NHL draft next year, so I wanted to hire a guy with some expertise in that area," said Williamson on Monday morning. "I met with a lot of good guys and some real quality (applicants), but you just go with your gut and think what the best fit is for you."
The IceDogs also announced the signing of those first-round picks -- defencemen Jesse Graham and Luke Mercer -- who were both teammates with the Toronto Young Nats last season.
In taking the job with the IceDogs, Van Ryn announced his retirement from playing pro hockey. In late June the Leafs announced that the 31-year-old would be taking the 2010-11 NHL season off in order to rehabilitate his knee which was surgically re-aligned in Oct. 2009. He missed all of the 2009-10 season due to the injury, after playing 353 NHL games with the St. Louis Blues, Florida Panthers and the Leafs.
Williamson said he spoke with Leafs head coach Ron Wilson and general manager Brian Burke to see if they thought Van Ryn would be able to make a smooth transition to coaching.
"They had glowing reports and they believed that this is a guy that is going to be a good coach," said Williamson. "He's a student of the game and the type of guy that has had to come back from injuries and re-invent himself a little bit and relearn systems. When you're out for any length of a time with an injury you have to study the game and (Burke and Wilson) said that this is a guy that understands the game."
In addition to Van Ryn, Williamson also hired John Neville as the IceDogs' director of scouting. Neville had previously coached with Williamson in Tier II before going to become a GTA scout for the Soo Greyhounds.
"(Soo GM) Davie Torrie recommended him very highly... he's very organized and I think he'll do a great job for us," said Williamson.
These are the first major hirings by the IceDogs under Williamson's watch since the 47-year-old was lured to Niagara in the off-season after taking the Barrie Colts to the OHL final. Williamson replaced GM Dave Brown and coach Mike McCourt after their contracts were not extended in May.
Van Ryn played one season in the OHL with the Sarnia Sting after two seasons in the NCAA with the University of Michigan. He famously left the Wolverines for Sarnia as an overage player exposing a loophole in the NHL collective bargaining agreement that made him a free agent despite having his rights owned by the New Jersey Devils, who had drafted him in the first round of the 1998 draft.
Despite a number of court battles, Van Ryn was allowed to sign as a free agent with the St. Louis Blues. The Canadian Hockey League and NHL later agreed to implement the "Van Ryn rule" which now prevents players from jumping from the NCAA to the CHL in their overage year.
"The Van Ryn rule, I teased him about that when we first met," said Williamson.
Sunaya Sapurji is the Jr. Hockey Editor at Yahoo! Sports. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org