If you’re reading this, you probably have a good idea of what the “typical” path to professional hockey looks like for a kid in North America. It starts with adorably small skates, Toronto Maple Leafs bedsheets, an untold amount of sacrifice from supportive or destructive parents, and that crucial moment when it looks like there might be a real future to having fun on the ice. Fast forward to travel teams, hockey camps, the launching pads of high school, Canadian major junior, and/or NCAA DI and an all-encompassing montage that plays during the NHL Draft.
But that’s not the story you’ll find in Ryan Minkoff’s memoir. After gaining recognition for sharing his story as a superstar in college club hockey and going pro in Finland on The Player’s Tribune, Minkoff felt he had a larger story to tell. That story is Thin Ice.
Minkoff’s love story with hockey has a familiar beginning in the State of Hockey but it didn’t take long for his dream to hit a snag as a result of the petty politics of parents and coaches. Guided by plenty of talent, an unyielding passion for the game, and an uncommon amount of perseverance, Minkoff found his way to the revered rinks of Minnesota high school hockey and honing his skills in the Minnesota Junior Hockey League. There, he found even more egos, mind games, and politics that threatened to spoil the sport he was building his life around.
As a result of circumstances outside of his control, Minkoff had to set aside his plan to play DI college hockey and instead take his talents to the ACHA (American College Hockey Association) at the University of Washington in Seattle. It was far from the conventional road to pro hockey, but that is what Minkoff’s story is all about. He frequently found himself as the big fish in a small pond constantly wondering just how deep he could really swim.
Time and time again his resolve was tested – not just by adversarial coaches and playing on teams with a shoestring budget, but also by his growing concern for his health and post-hockey life.
An excerpt from Thin Ice:
“All the recent studies and widespread concerns about head injuries made me worried about continuing my career. The wise choice may have been to retire to men’s league, where I wouldn’t have to worry about dangerous, physical contact. But if I left the team, it would be a blow to the UW program. I thought of my options: run the team as president but not play; be president and suit up for select games where I might be needed, like the PAC-8 tournament and I-5 Cup; or just play smart, pick my spots, and avoid the corners – where injuries most often occur – and play out the season.”
Minkoff’s story strikes a balance between being relatable and novel enough to keep you reading. This is a lot more than a coming-of-age story structured around a dream to continue playing hockey. Thin Ice places you in the passenger seat for a unique journey that brings a Minnesota kid to Finland where his only friend ends up being a defenseman from Latvia who was chasing the same dream.
It’s an underdog story. It’s a hockey story.
Blazing his own trail through the hockey world resulted in Minkoff being the president of his college club team, raising team funds, negotiating his own contract, and chasing down checks from his pro team in Finland. All he experienced proved to be invaluable experience for his post-playing career as the founder and owner of 83, LLC, a global ice hockey agency representing players at the junior, college, and professional level.
I’ve read a plenty of memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies of hockey players over the years. I found Thin Ice to be refreshingly different. It provides insight into several aspects of the hockey world that I only understood at surface level before cracking it open. For that reason alone, this book was worth a read. But that’s not all that Thin Ice has to offer. It’s funny, engaging, and honest.
Minkoff doesn’t come off as someone who is bitter that he didn’t make it to the show. He’s someone who has a gift for storytelling and is using it to share the lessons he learned from the wild ride that began in the State of Hockey and brought him to sketchy apartment above a closed restaurant in Finland.