August 22, 2013

Dan Ratushny

Dan Ratushny was an interesting defenseman who I kept waiting to catch on in the National Hockey League. He never did and I've never fully understood why.

Ratushny was a top prospect. The Winnipeg Jets drafted him 25th overall in 1989. He was a star at Cornell University, twice earning All American status all while earning an Ivy League degree in Economics and being a noted piano player.

The defenseman was a strong skater and good puck skills. We watched him closely on the national stage where he was captain of Canada's gold medal-winning World Junior squad in 1990 and a member of Canada's silver medal winning team at the 1992 Olympics.

Ratushny had been on Team Canada's radar throughout his college career. Dave King invited Ratushny to be a part of the team for the Izvestia Cup tournament at Christmas time twice.

"The thing I liked about Dan was the enthusiastic way he approached the game," said King. "He's a defensive defenceman, very strong and physical."

It was an excellent match for Ratushny, too.

''I've been playing college for the last three years and I've only been playing 30 or 35 games a year. I think it will be good to get more game experience instead of practising five times a week.
''It's nice just to be able to experience the international hockey, too,'' he said. ''There are a lot of adjustments. I'm looking forward to getting into a rhythm with the team.''
'That hockey is so much different -- the bigger ice and the importance placed on the basic fundamentals of stickhandling, passing, shooting and skating by the Europeans,' said Ratushny. 'Canadians are better known for working hard and sticking your nose in there. Combine that with having those other skills and you would have a complete hockey player.'

Ratushny may have been billed an offensive defenseman mostly because of his great ability to rush the puck out of his zone, but with the National Team he was more of a defensive defenseman. He learned a lot about the defensive side of the game under King.

Canada ended up winning silver in the Albertville Olympics - a tournament Ratushny almost missed. He suffered ligament damage in his wrist about a month before the tournament and played for a stretch with a cast. 

Following the Olympics he finished the season playing in Switzerland.

'At the Olympics, my role was as a defensive defenceman. When the Games were over, I got to play in the Swiss league for two months as a forward,' recalled Ratushny'To let loose and play on a line with Anton Stastny was a lot of fun.'
Ratushny was expected to make the jump to the NHL but for whatever reason the Winnipeg Jets could not get him signed. He finished the 1992 season in Switzerland and spent most of the 1992-93 season playing in Fort Wayne of the IHL.

"I played with the Olympic team and was all set to sign with (the Jets) right after the Olympics, but (Winnipeg General Manager) Mike Smith didn't call or make any contact. He sent me a note saying if I was interested in playing in North America I should give him a call. I took that as meaning he wasn't too interested."

Towards the end of the 1993 season Winnipeg traded Ratushny to the Vancouver Canucks for a 9th round draft pick. I thought the Canucks had the steal of the year. Soon we all did as he was called up for his first NHL game. He assisted on a Geoff Courtnall goal and levelled Luc Robitaille in a memorable hit.

'There is an enthusiasm there that jumps right out at you,' said George McPhee, the Canucks assistant GM at the time. 'And the other outstanding quality is his leadership.'

A lot of outsiders pencilled Ratushny, whose father was a lawyer and mother was a judge, into the Canucks defensive rotation for the following season but he had a poor training camp and, with the Canucks increasing blueline depth, Ratushny all but disappeared. He played several seasons in the minors before continuing his career overseas, both as a player and as a coach.

Dan's sister Lynn was also a notable Canadian hockey player who also played at Cornell. Like her parents she studied law.

His younger brother Greg was a promising hockey player who also was destined to go to Cornell, but he was severely injured in an automobile accident.

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